Boonville to Malta Bend

Notice: In an effort to continue blogging I have decided to temporarily skip to my most recent endeavors. Do not fret, the blogs pertaining to Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri will be written and shared. Those tales will be told, just at a later date. Please be patient. Right now, I’m enjoying my journey and actively working at staying present in the moments that pass me by. Thank you for sharing this adventure with me!

For seven weeks, I was surrounded by at least one other person on a 24 hour basis. I walked with Devon for five weeks, spent a week in St. Louis with my incredible friend Haley, and biked the Katy Trail with another amazing human, Steve, for a week. For seven weeks, I was not in the battle of life by myself. I could drop my guard and experience a different, broader style of living. I no longer had to consistently be strong and could rely on others to share the burdens of daily physical and emotional stress.

I found myself in Boonville, Missouri, knowing that the following morning I would separate from Steve, in the middle of no where, and continue on my path alone. I tried not to dwell on the fear of the unknown and instead, appreciate the present situation I was in. On our way to the nearby park we had planned to camp in, a man, Andy, hollered from his porch, “Where you going?” I wandered across the street to talk to him. His level of excitement was contagious and before I knew it he was offering to cook us dinner and give us a place to sleep. The offer was so sudden that Steve and I needed to mull it over. So, we continued with our plan to hike up to the park with the vista. There, the Missouri River traced its way through the land and the sun began to set. I told Steve that we needed to go back. My gut told me that Andy’s excitement was genuine and that it would mean the world to him for us to return. When we got back, Andy was still sitting on his porch and immediately called back to us, “I’m so glad you guys returned!” He showed us the house and apologized for the mess for he had recently moved in. Us being there reaffirmed his decision to move to Boonville. He knew he was close to the Katy Trail but he had no idea he now lived along the American Discovery Trail. We introduced him to warmshowers.org, where we told him he could sign up as a host to help out any touring cyclists in the area. He was thrilled to learn all of this but upon meeting us he also regained hope. In his younger days he used his love for the outdoors to overcome his struggles in life but he’d lost sight of that. Suddenly, that love was being rekindled and the fact that strangers were willing to trust him rejuvenated his belief in himself. I’m continuously amazed by the impact just walking by has on people and to some extend I still don’t understand it. All I know is that I end up where I need to be.

Just as suddenly as the paths of Steve and me crossed, it was once again forking in different directions. Literally, there was a fork in the road. I was headed right by foot and Steve was headed left on his bicycle. It was a strange farewell because we both knew our paths would inevitably cross again but just like before, we wouldn’t be the same people we were. Thunderstorms were in the forecast but all I felt was the wind. The sun shined down through the clouds and the heat wore me. As I exited Boonville, people consistently offered me assistance. A trucker on the highway I was paralleled to parked on the shoulder and walked up to the road where I was. He offered me a ride and told me he already had a hitch-hiker going to Oregon. I declined but entertained the idea of being stuck in a semi-truck cab with two strangers for an extended period of time, to an unknown destination. Next, I rounded a corner to read about one of Lewis and Clark’s stops and an older gentleman fishing gave me his unwanted and untouched food from Hardee’s. I suddenly had a juicy ham sandwich and two apple pies and that just tickled me. As I continued further, I sat down in a patch of grass and a woman pulled over to the side of the road to ask if I was okay. “Are you walking on purpose?” She was confused but caring. My path then took me to isolated gravel roads instead of the highway and there I worried about heat exhaustion and water. After a while, I grew low on water (about one liter) and houses were few and far between. Any slight incline raised my body temperature and I’d have to rest in the shade to try to cool myself. The humidity was higher because of the nearby storms and I slowly fought the feeling of helplessness. I could see in the distance a few houses and increasingly grew upset with my decision to follow the ADT route verse sticking to the highway where people were. In the back of my mind though, I knew I was doing okay and wasn’t in danger. I just constantly had to keep my fear in check and listen to my body. Slow and steady was the way to go. I approached a house with a water spigot and knocked on the door but no one answered. Water was all I needed so I quickly moved to the spigot and helped myself. With water, I had a new found confidence and the road that I thought was never ending did end. I found myself at my campground destination and sat at a picnic table. I was the only one in the entire campground area and after an hour or so I decided to venture to the camp host to pay the camping fee and participate in a little bit of human interaction. When I came back, I once again just sat down. I needed to set up my tent but I was lost in thought and exhausted. I figured music would be a great motivator so I played Good Life by One Republic and unrolled my tent. As I sang/mumbled the words, tears involuntarily rolled down my face onto the tent mesh. The few tears turned into sobbing and then wailing. I sat down with my tent half pitched and released the mass of emotion. I was exhausted. I was lonely. I missed my friends. I missed the love. I felt I’d lost my direction and had forgotten how to walk solo. I feared the heat would consume me in the coming weeks and I knew a massive storm was moving in in a few days. I didn’t know where I’d find shelter. All I knew was how to keep moving.

I woke up mentally exhausted and failed to walk whole-heartedly. I meandered to the visiter center in the town of Arrow Rock (no, there aren’t rocks shaped like arrows but rather there was confusion in the translation of many arrow heads being made out of the rock there) and was greeted by some pretty excited park rangers. Everyone was friendly and they gave me maps of the town to check out the history of it all. I mosied to the edge of town and investigated the things I saw along the way but like I said, I was walking half-heartedly. As I began to hit the outskirts of town, an older gentleman started talking to me on the way to his mailbox. He went by the name of Phliprz (pronounced Flipper) and owned the Rokwgn. What is the Rokwgn?? Well, it is a 1956 Chevy that Philprz drives to rock concerts and has various rock bands sign. It is all part of his dream to share the power of music and so far over sixty bands have signed it. His stoke level for life was incredible and inspiring and he was telling me about his next adventure down to Rocklohoma with his son. I was moved by the passion he lived his life by. Before I left, he told me he’d send an angel with me and with that I said goodbye. The next town I went through consisted of a gas station that no longer sold gas. I normally would’ve walked past without a second thought but I figured I could use the bathroom, get a gatorade, and use wifi for a little bit. The store was called Hardeman’s and when I opened the door I was greeted with smiles and a hello. I moved straight towards the bathroom to avoid any staring that inevitably occurs when I walk into a building and there on the wall was the sentence, “Always believe something wonderful is about to happen.” With that, I began to try to bring a bit of spirit back into me. It spoke to me and when I went to pay for the gatorade the woman, Jackie, looked at me and asked if I was hungry. I softly replied, “I have tortillas and granola bars.” She kept looking at me and asked again except with “what do you want? It is on me,” tagged on the end. She brought me the special: fried chicken, mashed potatoes, corn, and coleslaw. While I was enjoying that, a bicyclist, Richard, walked in and said to me, “You must be Amanda. I’ve been hearing all about you since Arrow Rock.” We sat and talked about our different adventures. He started in St. Louis and was headed to South Dakota before circling back around to finish in St. Louis. His method was to start at home and end at home. In the midst of all of this, Jackie told me that she was a mom and couldn’t even begin to imagine her daughters out in the world with no where to stay at night. She then decided she would take me home with her. It would be an hour or so before she got off work so I decided to walk in the mean time and she would pick me up on her way home. An hour went by and I expected her to pull up next to me at any moment but time continued to pass. Did I miss hear when she got off work? The sun felt like it was baking me and I wanted to rest in the shade but it was all off the beaten path. I refrained because I wanted to be easy to spot when Jackie drove by. As I walked on the gravel covered shoulder I began to feel discomfort in my right ankle and wondered if I had somehow slightly sprained it. I didn’t allow myself to worry about it too much and chalked it up to my leg muscles being too tight from the previous week of biking. Eventually, I did find a perfect resting spot and then Jackie appeared! She drove me to her home where I met her two daughters and husband and then she told me part of her story. She had grown up in the South Dallas area where the non-profit, Youth World, (the one that I’m partnered with) helps kids. She told me that if her parents hadn’t been wise enough to move the family out of that area then she could have been one of the kids that non-profit strives to help. After that, we both knew we had been placed in each other’s life for a reason. Her family was a hoot and it just overall felt right to be there. She told me too that it felt good to have my trust in her and that was a perspective I never considered.

I stayed another day with Jackie and her family. At first I didn’t know how to make the choice: to stay or go? The forecast predicted that there would be a hefty storm but something told me that it would miss the direct area I was in. In the morning, Jackie said to me, “It looks like you’re stuck here, there’s gonna be a large storm this afternoon,” and with that Jackie made the decision for me. Her daughters had adopted me as their hobo and that meant I was part of the family. The next morning, I left to embark on my journey once again and although it was sad to leave Jackie and her family it also felt good to keep moving. Not even an hour after I left, I had made a new friend. One of the yards that I passed had three dogs that came to say hello except one of them kept following me. There was a black lab, a chocolate lab, and a terrier. The chocolate lab decided he was going on an adventure! He just didn’t realize the extent of it. It isn’t uncommon for dogs to follow me but most of the time they return home or are stray. Before I knew it, this dog had followed me for ten miles and then fifteen! He was hilarious. Instead of walking along the road with me he’d swim through all the water in the ditches beside the road and when a car would near he’d hide in the tall grass before jumping out at it. He used his nose to smell out all the strange animals and found himself a raccoon to torment. He charged the raccoon and ran in circles around it while the raccoon swiped at him. I desperately tried to call him away and walk off but he wouldn’t follow. I didn’t want the dog or the raccoon to get hurt so I kept yelling at them until the dog grew tired. I slowly moved towards the two, now in a stand off, and grabbed the dogs scruff while using my trekking poles to keep the raccoon at bay. I tried to talk the raccoon into scurrying away but he wouldn’t budge so I decided to guide the dog away instead. It appeared that I had acquired a dog but I knew I couldn’t keep him. I saw he was drinking water when he needed it but I knew he was hungry. I gave him spam and a granola bar. That was all I could offer because I was headed into the middle of nowhere and had to keep tabs on my rations. I knew the owners must’ve been worried but how would I get him back home? Whenever I rested he’d lie next to me and at the first sign of continuing he’d leap up, excited for the adventure to continue. As the day went on, I knew he was getting tired but he kept pushing forward and would look back at me to make sure I was still walking. We passed a house that had three other labs and he disappeared among them. Next thing I heard, a man was talking to him. “Where’d you come from?” I popped up off the street and explained that he’d been following me for about 15 miles and I was trying to figure out a way to get the dog home. I knew the street the dog lived on so after a bit of contemplation the guy, Mark, agreed to drive the dog home and I tagged along to help point out the house. During the twenty minute car ride, the dog fell asleep in the back of the truck. Mark and I scoured the houses and finally saw the black lab that had accompanied the chocolate lab that morning. As Mark stopped the truck, a woman pulled over in her car and got out. It was the owner! The timing couldn’t have been more perfect. The dog’s name was Chewy and the woman had been looking for him the entire day. She was about to start making fliers but was relieved to have her baby returned. Mark drove me back and let me refill my water before I took off for the rest of the evening. There was nothing except farmland and empty roads out there but a certain peace filled me while gusts of wind passed me by. I found the Missouri River once again and I knew there would be some nice camping opportunities. Two men parked on the levee and I watched them disappear into the wooded area before they returned to their truck and left. I began scoping out the area and found a trail that they were using. What for? I did not know. I kept following it and discovered amazingly flat clearings that were perfect for my tent. However, I kept going and then discovered they had the same idea. I found both of their tents. I went deeper into the patch of woods and picked my spot for the night. I knew no one would disturb me there but I did not sleep well. I woke up in the middle of the night and heard sniffing around my tent. There was a patch of light shining through the foliage and my wild imagination thought it might be a flashlight, it wasn’t. All I could do was wait. Wait for something to discover me, wait for the darkness to consume me, wait for sleep to embrace me, or wait until the sun rose. Sleep finally embraced me and I woke to see the sun rise.

Elizabethtown to Hanover

Excitement filled me as I walked into Indiana. It was a fresh start to hold true to the American Discovery Trail. I didn’t want to reroute anymore and I wanted to find value in the nonsensical random twists and turns the trail took me through. As I walked through one of the suburbs near Lawrenceburg, two men were fixing a car on the side of the road and I got to talking to them. They told me that two girls were murdered the week before on the bike trail I was heading towards and the man had not been caught yet. I became concerned but the situation didn’t sound right. Regardless, I decided to play it safe and walk along highway 50. I worried about the heavy traffic and the high speed cars zooming past me but I figured the odds were in my favor. However, there was heavy construction and no where to walk, any side shoulder was decimated and there was barely enough room for the cars. I couldn’t walk that way. My only other option was to walk with traffic on the overpass but I had to get there first. I scrambled up a boulder field to reach the guard rail and then gracefully hopped over when there was a break in traffic. It wasn’t a huge shoulder but it would do. The sound of cars zooming past me didn’t terrify me like I thought it would but instead rose a certain excitement within me. I had a pep in my step and when I came across a Steak and Shake I knew I wanted a milkshake. A chocolate peanut butter shake at that! I walked on 50 until I got to the next town and then rejoined the ADT. I kept walking but made the mistake of resting too long. The day was chilly, consistently in the 30’s, and I was getting cold. My motivation for walking was lacking and I needed to find a warm place to sleep for the night, the temperature was going to drop to 13°F. I pulled out my phone and called one of the men, Daniel, that had been working on the car earlier. He had assured me he could find me a place to stay. He came and got me and took me to his ex-wife’s house but she ended up not being in town. He asked his neighbor and the fellow across the street but everyone said no. He then decided he could maybe find me a place in Elizabethtown, where I started in the morning, but after a quick phone call the answer was still no. Then it started to get a bit strange. Instead of trying to find me a place to stay for the night, I was now on a ride along journey. Daniel stopped at a few places and talked to people, and I was just there witnessing him run his errands for the day. By the time it started to get dark, Daniel told me he was all out of options. He didn’t have anywhere for me to go. I was a bit dumbfounded. I NEEDED shelter for the night. My 20°F sleeping bag was no match for the coming temperatures. I unwillingly told him he could drop me off at a trucker motel. Before I exited the vehicle, he looked at me and said, “Well, I’d help you out with the motel but I’m broke..” I was ready to leave the situation but I needed to confirm that he could come get me in the morning and drive me back to where he picked me up. He assured me he would get me in the morning. He hated people who didn’t keep their word so I was fairly confident he would be back to get me. Once I had wifi in the motel room I looked up the murder case Daniel had told me about. The only story I found that was similar was in Northern Indiana a month before, over a hundred miles from where I was. I was unable to find any information on a murder on the bike trail..

I gathered my things and sent a message to Daniel to let him know I was ready to be picked up. I believed him when he said he would keep his promise. However, after an hour of no response I knew I was on my own. I needed to find a ride or I’d have to rewalk the same path as the day before. Doing that would have been demoralizing so I forced myself to stop waiting for Daniel and walked into the front office to check out. As I began to open the office door, it opened. The front desk clerk had just ended his shift and was on his way home. I quickly asked if he knew where I could get a ride a few towns over and he said I could go with him. He was headed that way! I couldn’t believe my luck. I now only had to rewalk three miles. The town of Friendship was my destination for the evening. I had heard of the town but didn’t know much about it. Yet, I felt inclined to get there. My destination-oriented mind had me reroute on top of a ridge rather than following the scenic river road. As the evening neared, I walked into town straight towards the campground. The only problem was that no one was there. It felt strange being in a massive field with my solo tent and not knowing if or when someone was going to inquire what I was doing. I set my tent up under a tree and as I laid down for the night I heard a squirrel barking at my tent. It didn’t want me there. I opened my tent door and stared at it high above me in the tree. I wondered to myself if I could deter the squirrel away from me. I grabbed a cheap, hand held pepper spray a woman had given me and pushed the button. Nothing happened. Happy that I hadn’t actually needed it, I put it in my trash and continued to stare at the squirrel until it grew tired. When I could no longer bear the cold I cocooned myself in my sleeping bag.

I woke up with the sound of rain pittering and pattering on my tent. I tried to wait for a break in the rain but as soon as I started tearing my tent down it began again. My fingers numbed as I packed up the metal stakes and tent poles. I needed to get warm and try to get information about the weather so I adventured into the only general store in town. That’s where I was greeted by Amy. The first thing she asked me, with concern in her voice, was, “Are you alone?” I sat down at one of the tables and allowed myself to absorb the warmth around me. In a small town, a new face is a curious thing and all the regular customers were intrigued with my out of the ordinary presence. Amy came over to me and told me that she could find me a dry, warm place if I didn’t want to walk in the rain. I was extremely grateful! After a couple hours of conversation with Amy, her husband, son, and the other townsfolk, I disappeared in the little cabin I was going to stay in. As the room warmed up, I began to see shield bugs and lady bugs crawl out of the crevasses they’d been harboring in. I watched them explore their new world and wondered if at any second they’d lose their grip and fall from the ceiling. I wanted to read and work on my blog but sleep overtook me. When the general store closed, Amy and her husband, Scott, gave me a tour of the surrounding towns and took me out to eat so I could try the pork tenderloin Indiana was known for. Afterwards, Amy made sure we drove through the great town of Dewberry and their four-way stop sign. It was great because there was literally nothing else there! Scott and Amy enabled my hankering for ice cream while we were at a grocery store. I searched high and low for a small mint chocolate chip ice cream but there were only the larger tubs. I was about to grab a different type because it was a smaller tub but Scott and Amy just looked at me with smiles on their faces and said, “That one may be good but you WANT the mint chocolate chip.” I gave in to their persuasion and delighted myself with the minty chocolaty taste of the ice cream.

The next morning I walked over to the general store for breakfast before I headed out. The store buzzed with the morning gossip of a nearby car accident and right when Amy saw me she asked if I was staying. I knew she wanted me to but I felt an urgency to keep moving. It was finally time for me to leave and I could see Amy’s face was torn with worry. She grabbed me and hugged me. As I walked out of town I felt like I was leaving a part of me there. I knew I had found another forever family. The day was windy, cold, and gloomy but I did what I knew how to do and kept walking. I passed an amish house with two guys walking out and it sounded like they asked if I wanted a ride. Heck yea, I’d been trying to catch a ride in a horse and buggie! I’d worry about where it was going later. I stopped walking and waited at the edge of their property as the guys disappeared into the barn. A young woman, Bertha, then came out of the house and walked towards me. She conversed with me for a little bit but I saw that she was getting cold. Her two brothers rode out of the barn in their buggie past us and yelled, “You want a ride??” They made no attempt to stop but tauntingly said “C’mon.” I made zero moves to chase after the buggie but the idea and shock value would have been entertaining. Bertha invited me inside so that we both could get warm. Right before I entered the house she told me she had eight brothers and three sisters  and as soon as I walked through the doorway they were all staring at me. An overwhelming feeling began to fill me and even though I had a million questions to ask them I did not know how to ask any. Bertha did a great job facilitating conversation and filling the silence with questions but the uncomfortable silence pervailed. Her brothers slowly disappeared and four more girls from Kentucky arrived. I sat there confused as I listened to them occasionally speak pennsylvania dutch to each other. However, I was content being sheltered from the cold wind, if only briefly. One of the Kentucky girls boldly asked if she could try on my pack. I was enthused to share a small glimpse of the backpacking world with them. I exchanged addresses and promised to send them a letter once I got to the Pacific Coast. I continued walking through the country roads and when it was time to look for a place to sleep I wasn’t having a lot of luck. People either weren’t home, didn’t have a say so on the property, or had a guard dog. I kept walking however and arrived at a quaint home with a picnic table in their yard. I knocked on the door and a woman, Sarah, in a bright pink dress opened the door and exclaimed, “You’re hiking!” She was filled with joy and happily agreed to let me set up my tent while inviting me in for dinner. I started setting up my stuff and a man says, “Hello?” I turned around confused and saw that he was confused. I realized he must be Sarah’s husband, Joni, and hadn’t been inside to know who I was. When I went inside for dinner Joni told me they were mennonites, which I previously gathered from Sarah’s pink dress, and openly shared with me more of what that meant. They were intrigued with my journey and when they invited me to church the following morning, I agreed. I was concerned about not having nice clothes or not knowing the various songs/verses but Sarah reassured me the service was casual.

The morning was much colder than I’d expected and frost covered the tent. I hurriedly packed up my things so I could retreat to the warmth of the house. I went to church with Joni and Sarah and they reassured and guided me the entire time. Joni told me, “We’re all just common people,” and he was right. Sarah told me that the whole church was less than twenty people but I wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing. My unfamiliar face couldn’t be ignored and when I’m nervous a shyness erupts from me. I was getting worked up over nothing though because everyone was welcoming. The church service was similar to that of any church service except they didn’t currently have a pastor. Instead, members would take turns delivering the lesson/message and then discuss it. I felt the small town vibe and how their viewpoints demonstrated their heritage. There were comparisons with the jewish and amish faiths but the perspectives of an outsider, me, were unknown. I wanted to share my thoughts and ask questions but I didn’t feel like I was educated enough on the bible or the history surrounding it. One statement that did stand out to me however was, “There is opinion and then there is scripture and they don’t always match up. That is something that you have to come to terms with in your own life. ” I wondered too, how my gender, skin color, and religious orientation allowed me the opportunity to get to where I was in the first place. Afterwards, Joni and Sarah dropped me off at a Dollar General in Madison and I felt normal, except  normal was strange for me. I walked down to a pavilion next to the Ohio River to eat a sandwich Sarah had made for me. I happened to look to my right and I saw two people getting out of a vehicle except, I knew that vehicle! It was Scott and Amy. All I could do was laugh. Amy told me it was Scott’s idea to “go for a drive.” They knew roughly where I’d be but they didn’t know if they’d actually find me. I gave them both hugs before they left me, and I continued my walk to the next town. I found myself at a closed public library and sat at the picnic table out front. I hear the words, “You should savor every bite of your food because you never know when you’re going to have it,” as I munched on a granola bar. I turned around and a guy around my age walked towards me and sat across the picnic table. I looked at him and asked if he wanted a granola bar. Without answering, he began to fumble with his pockets and pulled out a set of head phones. He wanted to trade for the granola bar but I declined and gave it to him. He’d come to use the library wifi and although he was strange I could tell he had a good heart. He tried to tell me the roads I could walk to get to the surrounding towns and what ones were fastest. He didn’t understand why I’d walk the long way. He assured me I should take a different road; he knew they could be walked on because he frequently did it. As I continued on the ADT route I found a patch of woods that would be home for the night. I hid my tent behind a glob of vines and knew I’d have a peaceful night.