I felt lethargic but I refused to let that get the best of me. I stopped looking at the time and didn’t want to know the mileage; instead, I began the reflect on my life. The person that I have become is not who I was. I may look the same but my mind is far more inquisitive and free. I snapped out of my reflection to see a state trooper pass me slowly. A bit later he stopped and asked if I needed any help. He asked if the car on the side of the road was mine but I didn’t recall seeing one to begin with (I had been in deeper reflection than I’d thought). As he headed back to his vehicle I told him I was walking across the country and although he didn’t seem too interested I saw amusement in his face. At the end of my walking day, right before I entered Wells, he popped up again and asked, “Still don’t need any help?” I was surprised to see him again. State troopers infrequently stop to talk to me nonetheless stop again after they’ve already investigated me. I concluded he must’ve been bored. Before he left I asked about camping in the town park but he didn’t know for sure, that was a question for the town police. At the park, I realized that it wasn’t the loneliness that got to me but the fear of being judged. The difference between being in solitude in the wilderness verses a park was my expectation. In the wilderness, you are alone but in parks there is a stigma of fun, joy, and a place to socialize. As I sat at the picnic table two adolescents (a girl and a boy) walked near me and said, “Hello! You look wildernessie.” It was everything against what I expected yet I had noticed them scoping me out from afar. They were fun to talk to and it made me feel a little bit more welcome in the town. As evening grew near I began looking for a nook in the park to sleep in. My previous experiences sleeping in parks had turned me off of setting my tent up. I had decided too that I didn’t really want people to know that I was there. So, I went to the baseball dugout. It was away from the road and I figured was far away enough from sprinklers (my judgment was based off of how green the grass was). Well, as soon as I was about to jump in my sleeping bag they turned on. Turned out, I couldn’t escape them. I maneuvered to the middle of the dugout but a few hours later more turned on. I was being minimally sprayed and my only concern was to keep my down sleeping bag dry. I was irritated. I grabbed my umbrella and tried to stick it in the chain-link fence to protect me but it wouldn’t stay upright. In that process, the sprinklers surprise attacked me and soaked my clothes. I was completely fed up. I grabbed the umbrella and went back to my sleeping bag. I pinned the handle of the umbrella against the wall with my legs and kept it there the remainder of the night. The umbrella protected my sleeping bag; however, every few minutes my face would get hit with a few sprinkles. All I had wanted was a good nights rest..
I woke up at 4:30am and was completely done with that park and their sprinklers. I got back on the road at day break just in time to witness the fleet of state troopers driving to their assigned routes. One of the four vehicles beeped as they passed and I wondered if it was the officer from the day before. I was only starting my day and the fatigue in my body already had me questioning my ability to make it the thirty miles. The sky behind me glowed bright red behind a mountain, a beautiful sunrise, yet I worried it was caused by a wildfire. Turned out the smoke from the wildfires in Montana caused the immensely beautiful sky coloration. About mid-day, the same officer pulled over and asked if I’d seen someone else walking. Nope, I was definitely the only person out there. He told me there had been another call except the description was different, a woman wearing a white tank top. The description matched my white safety vest but I’d taken that off hours before. Before he left, I took the opportunity to share with him that if he really wanted to help he could bring me pizza. He just shook his head and laughed before saying, “That may be doable.” He had to head back west at the end of the day so I shared what exit number I’d be stopping at and what bridge I’d be under. It sounded like a plan and I was stoked. The whole situation was hilarious! The idea of pizza at the end of the day helped keep me going through the pain and I told myself that I had to get to the bridge or I wouldn’t get pizza. Pizza was my motivation but a small part of me held doubt. On my last mile, I began to see the state troopers heading home for the evening. One of the vehicles let out a beep and I knew then that I wasn’t getting pizza. When I got to the bridge it wasn’t what I’d hoped for at all. There was loose dirt that created a steep ramp to the top and none of it was flat. I pushed my cart as to get it out of the road as best as possible and then sat in the loose dirt. I didn’t want to give up on the pizza idea so I told myself I’d wait thirty minutes out in the open and then hide. I sat in the dirt and felt judgmental looks from the few cars that drove by. I began to battle my thoughts on my self-worth. The people that drove past most likely weren’t thinking negatively towards me yet that’s how I perceived it in my state of mind. The loose dirt kicked up a cloud of dust whenever I moved and I felt filthy. Rabbit holes were everywhere and I even spotted a few carcasses. In those moments, I felt exposed and impressionable and honestly, I didn’t view myself as much. After the thirty minutes, I scouted out a flat spot hidden from the road and away from the interstate. That’s where I remained for the rest of the evening.
Every day finding my motivation for waking up at 4:30am, or at all, was increasingly difficult. My body hurt and my first thought of the day became, “I don’t want to get up.” I knew that wasn’t an option though. I forced myself to have something to look forward to and for this day it was seeing the state trooper, a familiar face and friend in my highly erratic world. Like the day before, at day break the state troopers drove in a mass to start their day but this time none of them beeped. Did the officer have the day off? I continued in my tired and worn state knowing that I needed to get into town and find my host family, it’d been about two weeks since I had a full rest day. I focused on the ground and mindlessly walked until a vehicle pulled over in front of me. I looked up and it was the state trooper! He got out of the vehicle with an enthusiastic “Good morning!” He could tell I was tired and gave me an encouraging, “One more state.” He proceeded to tell me that I wouldn’t see him again and that I would be leaving his jurisdiction soon. I don’t think he knew how much I appreciated him telling me that. It was a sort of goodbye, one that I knew was coming. He explained the pizza situation too. It turned out there wasn’t a pizza place near the route he drove. He then left me with a warning about an upcoming tunnel, the Carlin Tunnel. There was no shoulder in it and “strange things” happen. Apparently people like to close their eyes when they’re driving through and others take their hands off the steering wheel. He told me there was a two mile detour that I should take and told me to be safe before he left. I wanted to give him a hug goodbye but I didn’t know what the boundaries were for a law enforcement officer. I watched him drive off and began to mentally start kicking myself because I never learned his name. I made slow progress as I kept walking due to my lack of consistency. I’d walk a mile and sit on my cart. Before I started again, I’d walk around the cart and inspect the tires. I’d start walking again and then decide I had to pee. It was this weird, twisted form of procrastination. I was tired of walking so instead I just wasted time which didn’t help me at all!
I took a rest day in Elko and met the most amazing locals at the family restaurant, “Coffee Mug.” While I was there eating lunch, four state troopers came in to eat (none of them were the one I knew). The host encouraged me to talk to them when I went up to pay (she knew what I was doing and I guess mentioned it to them) so for my own amusement I did. In the most awkward way possible I approached the table of four and said, “Hi, I’m the one you’ve been getting all the calls about. Just wanted to put a face to the calls.” While I was saying this I was naturally in the way of everyone around me and had to keep maneuvering out of the way. All but one knew what I was talking about and they asked a few questions about why I was walking. At this point though, I didn’t know why. It was just what I was doing. I guess it had become more of a finish to what I started. Overall, it was a good day. Besides the milkshake I had at Coffee Mug, I think I was most excited about being able to wear clean clothes.
I walked with the warning about the Carlin Tunnel on the forefront of my mind. It would be an obstacle that I’d have to tackle. I knew there was the road that detoured around but I needed to make sure I’d be able to access it. The road was only accessible on the west bound side and I normally walked on the east bound (against traffic). The hurtle was that there is a concrete barrier dividing the interstate and I wouldn’t be able to lift my cart over it if I missed the opportunity to switch sides. Everything went smoothly until I reached the tunnel. The road detouring around the tunnel was blocked off with cement barriers. Not only that, but there was a cattle guard with a barbed wire fence elongating away from it. “You have to be kidding me?! I said with frustration. Normally this wouldn’t have been a problem but I wouldn’t be able to get my cart through that. I tried anyways. I pushed and tugged the cart through the sage brush towards the small opening between the concrete barrier and barbed wire fence. I tried lifting and pushing the cart through the small opening but it wasn’t wide enough and the front wheel wasn’t sturdy enough to take the whole weight of the cart. “This is ridiculous.” A mile or so before I reached the tunnel a semi-truck had pulled over to see if I needed any help. The man wore a dastaar (turban), which told me he was a Sikh, and that explained why he stopped out of all the other hundreds of vehicles. I’d been told that Sikhs protect woman and children and overall serve their communities. He wanted to know where I needed a ride to and if I wanted a ride through the tunnel. When I told him I was walking on purpose though, he interpreted that as I didn’t need any help and headed back to his truck. I let the miscommunication go because I knew there was a road that detoured around. Now, I was mentally kicking myself. This whole situation could’ve been avoided. My logic turned to, “If one person stopped for me maybe someone else will.” I pushed my cart to the side of the interstate (thank you to Dawn for creating a “Walking Across America” sign for my cart) and made the sign visible while I stood next to the “no walk” sign. As each vehicle drove by I pointed to my sign, the tunnel, and then the “no walk” sign. Someone must’ve understood what I was trying to say! I gave myself thirty minutes to wait for someone to stop and then I’d have to take drastic measures. As I stood there looking foolish a few vehicles honked which peeved me. “Your honk does nothing for me!” I thought as my irritation grew. I hoped someone at least called the police on me. That way they could at least help me when I needed it. The thirty minutes came and went and I was upset and stressed. In my mind I worked up the idea that my only option left was to run through the tunnel. I put my safety vest on and boldly began to push my cart towards the end of the road shoulder. I counted how many seconds it took a vehicle going 80mph to get through the tunnel and it was 11 seconds. I didn’t bother doing the math but I knew the odds weren’t in my favor at 3mph. I hoped vehicles would give me a lane or someone would slow down and let me walk in front of them but they didn’t. I reached the end of the shoulder and a semi-truck going 80mph blasted past me only inches away. “Nope, nope, can’t do it!” I frantically told myself as I retreated. Cuss words flung from my mouth as I mildly freaked out. Finally, I called the police department and after three transfers I got a hold of the highway patrol dispatch. An officer was already heading in my direction so I sat on my cart, pulled out my umbrella, and ate an apple while waited. I figured the odds were that the state trooper would be one I already had met. As I sat there, I saw the state trooper drive past me. Apparently he was responding to a woman’s car being broken down on the other side of the tunnel. Several minutes later, he pulled over next to me. He wasn’t someone I knew. “Hi, I need help across the tunnel.” I said politely despite being frustrated. “What do you want me to do about?” he replied. Mentally, I was floored. “Are you kidding me?!?!” I thought. This is how the conversation went. Me: Can I put my cart in the back of your vehicle? Officer: No, I have stuff back there. There’s a road that goes around the tunnel. Me: I know, I can’t get through the concrete barrier. Officer: What do you want me to do about it? Me: I need help across the tunnel. Can you drive slow behind me and I’ll run through? Officer: I can do that, or we can do the other option. Me: What’s the other option? Officer: I can help you lift your cart over the concrete barrier.. but there’s another one at the other end. Me: That’s what I figured. So, can you drive behind me as I go through? Officer: Okay. The entire conversation I wanted to scream and pull my hair out. The conversation just kept going in a circle. I started walking and he followed but then a police truck showed up. I could put my cart in the bed of the truck and he’d drive me across. My frustration led me to the verge of tears. The police officer had me get into the caged area of the truck, which I’ve done before when officers have helped me, but before that he asked if I had any weapons. The conversation that I had in my head was, “Are you kidding me? I need help. I’m trying to get you guys to help me. I’m not a bad person!” Out of all the police vehicles I’d gotten into across the country none of them asked me about weapons before I got in. Now, I understand his approach to the situation and I get it, I do. He deals with a lot of people with unknown motives. Without hesitation I responded to his question, “I have a small knife. Do you want it?” I handed him my pathetic looking multi-tool that has a knife and he drove me through the tunnel. I tried to talk to him in the truck but he either ignored me or couldn’t hear me. On the other side of the tunnel, I thanked him and began walking again. I felt defeated and started crying. All I could do was keep walking and tell myself, “You’re doing the best that you can.” I realized too that the idea of having law enforcement officers help me wouldn’t have occurred if it hadn’t been for the state trooper I’d interacted with the previous days. He’d built rapport with me and it changed the way I viewed the officers. Instead, of seeing them as trying to protect society from me (crazy person walking) I began to see them as people that could help me in my journey. The ordeal put me several hours behind but I still needed to get to the same destination. I had no more time to waste. As I continued, I saw two men standing on the bridge above me. I looked up and waved. They started shouting down questions at me but I couldn’t hear them so I climbed up the dirt hill to talk to them. They were two UPS drivers that had heard about me over the course of the past week from their opposite driver. Apparently, their opposite had been tracking me each day along his route and tried to guess where I’d be the following day. These two guys were taking their break time to talk to me and were incredibly excited to finally see me! It was so meaningful that they wanted to stop and talk! Looking back, I only met them because I couldn’t get through the tunnel.