Uinta Highline Trail Day 1

Intricate, jazzy soul music played as my friend, Kam, drove me through the Utah desert into the low Uintas. His lime green, Honda Element fought through the gusts of wind as I sat there giddy with excitement. Everything had perfectly aligned and on such short notice. The day before, I had realized the shuttle from Hayden Pass, the western trailhead, to the 191 trailhead was ridiculously expensive. It would be cheaper to make the drive out there yet, I was unwilling to leave my van for a week on the side of the road. I sent out a group message asking for assistance and Kam was the one that replied. In the span of 30 minutes my trip went from possibly being delayed to happening. On top of this, that very morning I bumped into an old friend and coworker at a Sierra Trading Post. After talking with him, I found out he’d hiked the Highline Trail and that there was indeed a trail worn into the earth. He described the trail and told me about the cairns that guided the way when the trail disappeared. Relief flooded over me. I would not have to solely rely on my navigation skills. I was meant to do this trail.

The Highline Trail was more than a backpacking adventure for me. I knew going into it, it would test me. I knew the isolation wouldn’t bother me and that my ignorance would keep me blind to the intensity of the elevation change at altitude. I knew these things and that my land navigation was lacking in skill. I knew these things but I also knew that I was intuitive and resilient. I knew how to survive in the backcountry. I’d walked across the country for Pete’s sake! A roughly 101 mile trail in the Uinta mountains had nothing on that.

By 3pm, Kam and I reached the 191 trailhead and we said our goodbyes. I watched him drive away as I stood there with my 48lb pack, already weighing me down. What to do now? I hadn’t planned on starting until the following morning but it seemed like such a waste of time to sit there and twiddle my thumbs. I whipped out my map from its designated ziploc bag and analyzed it. Roughly 4.5 miles in was the East Park Reservoir. I estimated it would take me two to two and a half hours to get there and then I could set up camp and refill my water before it got dark. I called my mom before I lost cell service and updated her on my plans and sent one last text message to Joe. Joe would be the one to pick me up at Hayden Pass, on the other side of the Uintas.

The trail was extremely rocky and I quickly began my uphill battle. My pack weighed me down with every step and I couldn’t wait to begin devouring my food. Not because I was famished but because I had 15lbs of it. I wanted it to disappear. You may be questioning why I had 15lbs of food. Well, I calculated that I needed about 4,000 calories every day due to the strenuous mountain conditions and I decided to try a new trail diet. I packed a plentiful amount of summer sausage and cheese, not the lightest but high calorie and fatty. I’d need long lasting energy throughout the days and enough fat to keep me warm at night. My hips took most of the pack weight and I wondered how long it would be before they started to rub raw. At the first park, basically a giant grassy clearing, I almost lost the trail. I had occasionally seen National Forest signs and figured I could use it to help guide me. I was wrong. After crossing the park, I hurdled over dead and down trees trying to find any sign of the trail. I stood there and looked back at where I’d come from. There had been a trail but it gradually disappeared. I looked at the map on my phone and tried to identify where I was and where the trail went. I had the physical map of the area and then an overlay on my phone that roughly told me where I was in conjunction with a GPS drawn route from a previous hiker. I eventually used common sense and intuition to estimate the direction of the trail. I figured with all the down and dead trees that it was likely the trail continued around the forest, not through. I continued through the park and eventually spotted a 025 marker sticking out of the ground.

I finally made it to the reservoir and despite the vast openness that surrounded me I opted for a more inconspicuous spot for my mustard yellow tent. I took note of my thought process. Despite being in the backcountry, I still made sure I was fairly hidden from the eyes of anyone scurrying about. I meandered towards the reservoir and away from my tent to maintain triangulation of tent, kitchen, and bathroom. There were bears out there and I didn’t want them near my tent while I was sleeping. I twisted my pocket rocket stove on to the isobutane propane fuel and the gas started spraying out at me. I quickly finished tightening the stove to the fuel before my fingers got any colder from the leaked gas. Irritated and unsure of the problem, I unscrewed and rescrewed the fuel back onto the stove. The gas still leaked as I twisted. I had hoped I picked a fuel canister that sealed the gas to prevent such a thing, guess not. Accepting the circumstances, I began cooking my Knorr rice packet and mixed in several slices of summer sausage. I was too impatient to wait for the rice to fully absorb the water so with each bite I endured a random crunch. The warm summer sausage was heavenly though and I quickly displaced them from the rice. As I sat there eating I noticed something shiny across the lake. Or was it on the water? I squinted my eyes trying to decipher the outline of the object. Was it a person? I stared at it, was it moving?

I gathered my water containers and walked down to the reservoir. What was that shiny thing? I didn’t think it had moved. As I approached the water it became evident that the dirt was soft and as I got to the edge of the water it was nearly impossible to weight the ground without sinking into it. Due to less than average amounts of snow the previous winter the water levels of all the lakes were low. One large opportunely placed rock was nearby so I picked it up and threw it towards the water’s edge. I took a gentle, even keeled step and placed all my weight on the rock. It sank slightly. I squatted down and placed my bottles into the water, careful not to disturb the mud. Despite my efforts, I watched water and debris float into the bottle. The shallow water only allowed my bottle to fill 3/4 the way up. Still unknown to me, I let the thought of the shiny object go and carried my water back to my tent, careful not to sink into the mud.

Back at the tent, I screwed on my water filter to the bottle. I squeezed but barely any water trickled through the filter. I unscrewed it and tried to back flush it with the small amount of clean water I still had. I retried to filter the water from the reservoir and although there was slightly more water coming through it it wasn’t efficient. I gave up on the filter. I’d have to trouble shoot it after the trip. I dug into the waist pocket of my pack and pulled out my iodine tablets. Thankfully I knew to have at least two ways of treating the water. I dropped two tablets into each liter of water and proceeded to wait thirty minutes.

With the water taken care of, I gathered my food and stuffed it into a garbage bag. I didn’t have a food bag or a bear canister so I improvised. I scoured my surrounding looking for the perfect branch to lodge my garbage bag of food onto. I shoved the bag onto one branch and it began to fall, tearing part of the bag with it. The garbage bag idea wasn’t the greatest after all. I grabbed a second garbage bag (they’re versatile so it only makes sense to have more than one) and double bagged my food before throwing it in yet another tree. This time it stuck. I was quite aware of the fact that if a bear wanted my food it was going to get it despite hanging it or throwing it in a tree. I just didn’t want it to happen near my tent.

The sunlight began to fade and with that the temperature began to drop. I crawled into my single person tent and submerged myself within my zero degree sleeping bag. There had been sounds of birds and squirrels moving about yet with the darkness came silence. A few coyotes howled and a panicked animal cried out in the distance. Other than that, the silence was only temporarily broken by the sound of airplanes flying high above me. Even in the backcountry, I couldn’t fully escape the sights and sounds of humanity. I glanced over the maps for the following day and noted anxiety within me. I was 4.5 miles in and had a lot more to go. This was the journey I’d chosen though, one of growth, and I was grateful.

California Highlights Part 2

I walked to the next town excited to be picked up in a helicopter. I had no idea how the logistics for this would work but common sense told me I’d need to find a flat, open area for the landing zone. I waited in a nearby orchard expecting confirmation from Susie but after an hour or so I got a phone call that said the endeavor was a “no go.” There had been a bit of a miscommunication between Susie and her friend and the people she wanted me to meet were not actually home. Disheartened and near dusk, I struggled to make it to the next town, Robbins. Unknown to me, I was approaching the rice fields in central California. What had reminded me of Maryland the day before, now unmistakably resembled Kansas. The heat and humidity were ridiculous but even worse, there were swarms of mosquitoes. I crossed over a bridge on a small river and heard the swarms as I approached. I felt them brushing against my legs with each stride and if I stopped even for a second I’d be consumed. My bug spray did next to nothing and all I wanted to do was run, to free myself from the blood sucking monsters. Once I gained distance away from the river the mosquitoes became tolerable again and I was able to check my phone. There was a missed call from Susie and a message that read, “I will come get you if I hear from you before 6.” It was 6:10pm. I frantically called her and sent her a message but there was no reply. My frustrations grew and I wanted to allow myself to cry. However, I couldn’t fall apart now. I needed to get to town. I made my way onto a small highway as the sun began to set. Would I make it? A small truck slowed and asked if I was walking across the country. Scott saw my gear and the purpose I walked with and knew I wasn’t one of the usual homeless individuals walking between towns. After a good conversation, I asked him to drive me into town. I’d lost the daylight that I needed to get there. Scott was hesitant about leaving me at the rough looking convenience store but I insisted. I walked inside to gather a few groceries and didn’t bother allowing myself to feel nervous. Everyone spoke Spanish and I was clearly out of place. Yet when I got to the register I asked about places to sleep and they all agreed the nearby elementary school would be best. I wandered around the school fields looking for a good spot but it made me nervous having people hanging about. At the edge of the fields were two storage containers and that would be my cover for the night. I crushed the stalky grass hoping it wouldn’t puncture any holes in my tent. Then, I got a call from Susie. ” 9am tomorrow we’re going on an adventure!” I knew exactly what that entailed and slept with excited anticipation.

“We need an open space clear of wires and telephone poles,” were the instructions Susie gave me over the phone. Her and her boyfriend, Dave, were prepping the helicopter and they needed to know their flight pattern and estimated landing zone before they took off. Susie gave me a quick run down of how everything needed to be executed. “We’re going to touch down and you need to stay back and wait for me to come get you.” I heard the helicopter before I saw it and I stood ready to go. I couldn’t believe this was happening to me! I waved my arms in the air as they circled the soccer field. They spotted me and began their descent. They touched down and Susie jumped out and ran to me. After a quick hug she instructed me to stay low, throw my backpack in the far seat, and sit. The noise from the helicopter was deafening but I managed to get the gist of what she wanted me to do. She buckled me in and put noise canceling headphones over my ears. As we took off and quickly gained elevation, I felt lightness in my stomach. The land below was a cluster of gridded agricultural squares. Anything that sparked Dave’s curiosity on the ground resulted in him leaning the helicopter to get a better view. Despite my excitement, I quickly learned that if I too tried to investigate the ground for too long I’d become nauseous. I had to strategically find focal points ahead of me so when I explored the world below me for too long I could “ground myself.” Susie gave me ginger candies that helped my stomach. I wasn’t going to let motion sickness stop me from enjoying my spontaneous helicopter ride! It was decided that we were flying to Bodega Bay! We were going to do a flyby of my end destination! We flew over a small range of mountains that took us into Napa Valley. The bird’s eye view provided enormous detail to the geographical features and it reminded me how small humans are in the world. The mountains were lined with the parallel rows of grapes for the wineries and roads could be traced along the ridges. We continued West and we flew above the clouds. They looked solid enough to walk on yet we were traveling through them! Encompassed by white, we only knew we’d reached the ocean from the GPS coordinates. Dave directed the helicopter towards an open patch of clouds and we descended above the ocean. The white was quickly replaced by the depths of the blue ocean and I stuck my face into the window bewildered and amazed. Then I spotted my end point, the place I’d been almost a year before, Bodega Dunes Beach. We flew low above the ocean, parallel to the beach, and the surfers and beach goers looked at us confused but waved all the same. On the ride back, I did my best to control my nausea but I was beginning to lose the battle with my stomach. Our next destination was one of Susie’s friends that she wanted me to meet and stay with. We circled the home and looked for a landing zone. The best around was farmland but it was a risky landing. The remains of the crops were dry and there was a possibility of a fire starting. So, the second the helicopter landed Susie jumped out and scoped the area for any smolders or possibilities of fire. All was clear. The neighbors came to investigate and see what was wrong. One of the kids began yelling indistinguishable words at us so Dave went to talk to them. Turned out the kid was asking if we had tacos. The kid explained that his grandma lived in Sacramento and made tacos. He wanted us to fly there and get some so we could bring them back. Susie introduced me to her friend, Feral, and I would be staying in the “chill dome.” It was a tent made out of colorful cloths and had furniture in it. Feral had made it for the previous Burning Man festival. The whole household was an artistic masterpiece and later in the day I got to meet her family during a mini reunion. Once again, I found myself part of another family.

Despite sleeping outside, I didn’t get attacked by mosquitoes like I’d expected. Instead, there was a small critter running around that gnawed a hole in my bag of cheese popcorn. It only took one though so I guess it didn’t like it much. As I stopped into a Dollar General in the next town I got a call from Susie. “I want to walk with you!” I welcomed her into my journey but felt the need to add a few disclaimers. I knew the road I’d begin walking on had very little to no shoulder and was quite curvy. It could be quite stressful at times and a bit more difficult with two people. However she was adamant so I welcomed her. I told her the road I’d be walking on the rest of the day and she told me she’d find me that night. The road was beautiful going into the small mountain pass but the lack of shoulder proved frustrating. With several reservoirs ahead of me and it being a Sunday, boats came flying down the road way behind their vehicles. With no shoulder I had to retreat into the thorny weeds. I’d told Susie that I’d meet her at the Glory Hole, a cement structure at the edge of Berryessa Dam that consumed water when the water was too high, yet when I got there I was trapped between a chain-link fence and a rock face. I knew I couldn’t stay there so I kept walking. I hoped that Susie would realize the inadequacy of the location and keep driving down the road until she could find me. There was no cell service so I hoped Susie would use her intuition to find me. I stopped at the first feasible location, a turn off down to the water, and waited there. Roughly thirty minutes later, Susie pulled in but didn’t see me until she almost passed me. She was ecstatic! I didn’t know what her plan was but I jumped in the car. Next thing I knew, we were headed back in the same direction I’d come. We drove down the windy road and I was able to get the opposing perspective, the one from a vehicle. I had mentioned that a milkshake sounded nice so Susie pulled over at a car wash and asked a man where the best milkshake in town could be found. Unfortunately, that was at a Burger King. It wasn’t what I had in mind but it sounded good all the same. After we got that taken care of, we needed to find a place to sleep. Susie, being a social butterfly, decided we’d go downtown and ask the locals for places to camp. Her opening questions were: “Are you a local?” “Are there any camping spots?” and “Where can we find a good milkshake?” The first people that we came across were staring at a hole in the ground and taking measurements. The woman had stepped into this hole on the way back to her car and fell, injuring her hand and head. They wanted the hole fixed so that no one else became injured as well. We left them and asked a few more people before I realized that Scott, the guy who dropped me off at the sketchy convenience store, lived in town. I gave him a call and he agreed to meet us at a cafe. Scott wasn’t able to let us camp on his property due to the short notice but embarked on the adventure of finding a place where we could. We wandered down to the river to check out stealth camping possibilities but decided too many homeless people hung around there. Next, we went to the park and that is where Scott left us. That is where we thought we wanted to sleep until Susie and I both decided we just wanted to sleep in the car. With that decision, we drove to the nearby residential area and parked. Susie was terrible at being discreet. She sat in the car with the lights on and moved her bedding around while bicycles and cars drove by. All I could do was embrace it and see the humor in it before we finally settled for the night.

We began walking at Marley Cove because Susie needed a place to park her car and a landing zone for Dave, in the event he needed to pick her up in the helicopter and drop her off at her car. Susie was determined and excited for the day. Her gear and attire didn’t make her look like a backpacker but she had spirit and optimism. She wanted to pick up all of the shiny things and pretty rocks on the ground but I had to remind her of the extra weight she’d then be carrying. After a while, I could tell she was starting to hurt but to keep morale high she’d say, “This is so exciting!” She never complained yet I could increasingly see her discomfort. Her backpack had no waist strap so all the weight pulled on her shoulders and she began walking with her hands behind her, lifting the pack. After eight miles we rested at a closed winery/bar and had five more miles until we’d reach Turtle Cove, our stopping point. Those last five miles were difficult for her but without complaint she made it and by the time we got there she was hobbling. The next challenge was for Susie to find a ride back to her car and luckily we found two guys that were heading that way! I waited and ate the spring rolls the place was known for and rested. Susie came back with her car and wanted to going swimming so we began to make plans for her to swim and me to walk eight more miles. Well, right before she left she asked me if I was sure I didn’t want to go swimming. I definitely wanted to go swimming so I gave up on walking for the day and went with her to find a place to swim. Susie didn’t find the quality of the water in Lake Berryessa appealing so we decided to go to the next lake. Turned out that there was no swimming in Lake Hennessey because it was the water supply for Napa Valley. With that, we gave up on swimming and drove into town to eat and find a place to sleep. We ended up sleeping next to a Montessori and next to someone’s house. I was tired and wasn’t the happiest with that sleeping location but I forced myself to get over it.

We started the morning walking on a busy road. Susie noted how disgusting she felt from all the car exhaust but I’d never paid much attention to it. Once we turned onto the road out of town the traffic dissipated, the shoulder disappeared, and the uphill out of Napa Valley began. It was beautiful and calm in some sections and others Susie and I struggled to not get hit by cars on the curvy, inclined roads. Susie’s goal for the day was to walk ten miles with me and then say a final goodbye. Ironically, the ten mile mark was at the crest of the massive hill and we soon realized that it may be more difficult for her than we thought to catch a ride back into the valley. That’s what we thought anyways, turned out that immediately after we reached our point the first truck that drove by stopped. It all happened so quickly. She gave me a quick hug and then she was gone. One second she was there and then she wasn’t. The rest of the way into Santa Rosa was downhill with a disappearing shoulder  and a narrowed, curved road. It was absolutely the worst conditions for a road to be walking on. i was trapped by either a rock face or a massive downhill  on the side of the roads and traffic was increasing rapidly. I bounced back and forth from each side of the road and occasionally found a ditch to retreat into. As I topped one of the last hills, a man named Sig was parked on the shoulder. I wasn’t sure if it was a coincidence or if he’d been waiting for me but he asked if I was walking from St. Helena. He was excited to hear my story and offered me a ride down the hill. I declined despite the sketchy walking conditions. As soon as I set foot on the first sidewalk in town I started to smell cologne but there was no one around me. It smelled so good but I was confused by its origin. I continued through the parks and bikeways until I made it to my friend’s, Landon, parent’s house. It was like a scavenger hunt for me to find the house and then to get in it. I called Landon while I explored the home and he gave me an auditory tour. It was great to see all of his childhood pictures and the place he grew up in. I was extremely gracious for him and his family’s generosity. I spent the evening relaxing and cleaning up and when Landon’s dad, Tom, got home from work he immediately went to find me and to hear my stories. It was great talking with him but by the end of the night I could barely keep my eyes open.

Tom made me french toast for breakfast and told me that he wanted to drive me past one of the sketchier parts of the bikeway. I originally declined but I could see concern in his facial features so to make him feel better I accepted. Unknown to me, that turned out to be six mile boost. I originally thought I had a late start to the day but now I was ahead of schedule. My parents were arriving into the area from Texas in the afternoon and then they’d come find me and pick me up. I originally was headed towards Wild Flour Bakery, many locals told me to stop there, but it was closed for the day. I instead decided to continue to the historic one room school, Watson School. It was a quaint little spot and perfect for stealth camping but that would be unnecessary for the night. I waited for my parents at one of the picnic tables and I had no feeling of anticipation about finishing. At this point, I knew I would. Strangely enough though, I didn’t have a triumphant feeling. Deep in thought, I saw a rental car pull up and my parents jumped out congratulating me. I tried to tell them that I hadn’t reached the ocean yet but to them I had already succeeded. They took me back to their motel room and then we went to the local diner. A chocolate milkshake was a must!

I knew it was my last walking day yet it didn’t feel like anything significant was happening. I ate tuna for breakfast and wanted to start walking as soon as possible. I hoped for a decent shoulder to walk on for the last few miles but I didn’t know what to expect from Highway 1. While walking, I had to allow myself to get into the groove of it all. Nine miles of walking was still three hours. I ended up taking a road off the highway and it was gorgeous! As I got closer the smell of sand and salt filled the air. The road winded through the trees and climbed steeply over the hills. I crested over one hill and the descent presented the ocean! What a magnificent sight! Two of my friends, Bob and Lia, were also going to meet me at the ocean but I was afraid I’d beat them there so I took my time. Rather, I took the time to appreciate the things in front of me. I examined the massive pine cones I found on the ground and took pictures with all the local signs. Then it was time to enter the last stretch into Bodega Dunes Beach. I knew exactly where I was then. I’d made this turn almost a year before in my van while I was traveling on the West Coast. Right before I walked past the entrance booth, Bob and Lia drove slowly up to me and I greeted them with a weird facial expression before hugging them through the car window. They drove off towards the beach and then called saying they didn’t see my parents. A spark of anxiety lit within me. “Where are my parents?” Before too much worry overcame me they pulled up next to me in their vehicle and my dad jumped out. He was going to walk the last bit with me and distract me while my mom, Bob and Lia worked on a banner. When I got to the parking area I sat at a picnic table and watched from afar as loving family and friends created a banner for me. I felt no rush to get to the ocean. It wasn’t going anywhere. After all, it is the journey and not the destination that mattes. I waited and when they were done we all walked onto the beach together and I waited again until they were camera ready and had the banner properly placed. That’s when I jumped and ran into the ocean! I had uncertainty about jumping into the ocean but I did anyways with my shoes on. The massive, powerful ocean was a foreign place for me but like the other obstacles, it wasn’t going to stop me. After running into the ocean I made a sand angel and grabbed a giant ocean root/seaweed and started jump roping with it and then went for a second sprint into the ocean. I was high on life and everything was beautiful. I did my best to absorb each moment and take mental snapshots but all the while I felt that this was not the end of a journey but a beginning.

Thank you to all. You have shown me a world I never would have imagined by myself.

California Highlights Part 1

My first night in California caught me by surprise. I was fairly certain that I’d be camping outside next to the mountain bike trail I was on yet in the late afternoon I decided to send a logistical text message. All of my options to get into the next major town, Truckee, were less than favorable. The roads bottle-necked, making the interstate the only road to travel on, and the other option was to walk along the railroad (through tunnels and bridges) and trespass on a disgruntled old man’s driveway. These were my foreseeable options but I hoped by contacting this local family they could provide me with alternative options. Unfortunately, the only alternative they offered was not an option for me, “back tracking 20 miles and taking an alternate road.” They did however connect me with one of their friends in the nearby area, Eric. The mileage to his place was unknown but my best guess was 4 or 5 miles and I had roughly an hour of daylight left. For that hour, I sped through the trail, never quite running, over the untimely hills and never catching my breath. When I got to Eric’s home I felt discombobulated and full of adrenaline. I’d made it in the last light of day. Within the first few minutes of arriving he asked me if I was hungry. His neighbors were cooking burgers and they had more than enough to share. Just like that, I threw myself into his neighbors gathering (7 people) and attempted to socialize while I processed where I was and what was happening around me. I didn’t know what to say and could feel myself becoming overwhelmed. All the while, everyone was incredibly kind and Eric vigilantly checked to see if I was doing okay or needed anything. We played darts, cracked jokes, and laughed and it was a beautiful opportunity to witness the love within their friendships.

I was tired of doing sketchy things. I didn’t want to walk along the railroad tracks and risk being amidst the wrath of an oncoming train. I knew it was doable but I was over it. I didn’t want to risk trespassing through the old man’s driveway and find myself in the sights of his gun. Chances were it would’ve been okay; yet, those seven miles weren’t worth it to me. So, I caught a ride with Eric into Truckee and began my approach into the Sierra Mountains. I loved the Sierras but I did not want to be there. Like entering sketchy situations, I was worn of them. I knew the mountains would bear thunderstorms and with my luck, I’d be in the midst of them. The Sierras are juvenile and playful yet they are equally merciless. I made my way up Donner Pass and spotted humans on the mountain side rock climbing. “Off belay!” I’d hear in the distance. The climbing commands were a comfort to me as I faced vehicles heading straight towards me down the windy roads. There was no shoulder and more often than not I was pinned against a guard rail. I was at the mercy of the drivers. As I continued up the mountain I made the mistake of trusting Google Maps. I didn’t examine the route and now stood at a dead end. The path disappeared and the trails Google told me to wander on were nonexistent. I regrettably had to backtrack a mile and a half. I continued on old Highway 40 until I reached a sign museum to refill my water. The elderly man inside shared some of the history of the now almost nonexistent town. When Interstate 80 was built the influx of cars disappeared and soon the businesses did too. When the hotels, bars, and restaurants closed the communities began to change as well.

The wet and chilly morning led to an unappetizing breakfast, a packet of slightly frozen, gelatinized spam. Each bite disgusted me but I knew my body needed the energy. I continued into the wilderness and stumbled upon a bulldozer with two men. They were equally surprised to see me as I was to see them. For a short while they stayed ahead of me but it became apparent that I was walking faster than they were able to go from point A to point B so they let me pass. As I began my ascent I left behind the mechanical noise and loud beeps of the bulldozers. The Sierra Mountains relentlessly gained elevation with nearby storms approaching and as I feared I was going to be in the middle of it. I picked up my pace frantically trying to out run the storms but the road just kept going up. I was short of breath but my muscles never burned. Now towards the top of the mountain, the road followed a ridge. There was no escape from the storms. Eventually, a vehicle passed me and the man, Ralph, said he’d be turning around soon and I’d be seeing him again. Slightly confused, I kept walking. When he drove back around he asked, “Where are you from?” His question caught me off guard so I replied, “I’m walking across the country.” He then looked confused and told me I looked German. It turned out he lived in the town I’d be stopping in the following night and he wanted me to meet his wife and told me I could camp in their yard. It felt good knowing I had a place to sleep the following night and gave me a sense of ease. As I kept walking I fell into a state of despair while thinking about making it to the Pacific Ocean. I didn’t want to reach the ocean alone. I wanted friends and family to be there yet, I was unsure of that happening. I eventually made it to the Robinson Flat Campground and scoped out a place to get water. There was an old water pump but regardless of how many times I pumped it, it was fruitless. I continued to wander further and spotted two women just returning from their hike. They graciously shared their excess water and gave me fancy ham and crackers. Fat rain drops started to fall from the sky and the women offered to drive me out of the storm. After originally declining, I accepted and what I thought would be a few miles turned into a 10-15 mile ride. They dropped me off at a small pullout and moments after setting up my tent the sky began to drop dime sized hail. It pelted against my rain fly and sounded like a beating drum. “It doesn’t last forever,” I told myself in a comforting attempt.

Gnats swarmed me as soon as I began walking. They floated in my face and waited for the perfect opportunity to dive bomb into my eyes. It was horrendous and was quickly turning me insane. I tried anything I could think of. I covered my face with sunglasses and a bandana yet the little buggers crawled into the crevasses. Bug spray did nothing so I tried putting Icy Hot on my face. All that did was make my face burn. The whole situation just made me want to cry. I envisioned myself using my bug spray and lighter to burn them all yet I quickly dismissed that idea. I didn’t want to burn down the entire national forest. That would’ve been hard to explain. Instead, I settled on using “wax on, wax off” hand motions to keep them out of my face. At this point, I deeply wanted to escape the national forest but knew nothing would readily change when I crossed the boundary line. In fact, the only things that did change were that there were more cars and less places for me to pee. After 13 miles I walked into Foresthill and found a cafe. I now had the dilemma of continuing to walk another 10 miles or stopping to stay with Ralph and his family. I knew he was excited for me to meet his family yet I couldn’t allow myself to waste half a day. I had schedule to keep to if I wanted to make it to the Pacific Ocean on my end date. I left Ralph a voicemail and continued on.

I walked across Foresthill Bridge, the highest bridge in California- 730ft, and noticed numerous call boxes on the bridge. They were put there for crisis counseling and to help individuals there to commit suicide. As I walked past each one I couldn’t help but think about how much courage it’d take to use one. In their deepest, darkest moment they’d have to see a smidgen of hope in order to ask for help. I wondered how often that actually happened. As I entered town, I stopped at a park to stretch out my hip and rest. A woman approached me with her dog, “Dos.” She’d seen me walking down the road a few days before. It was one of those opportunities where I saw my purpose in listening. She told me about conflict in her family and the turmoil surrounding her boyfriend. Her parents didn’t approve of him and later in the day she was going to meet with her mother to talk about it. Without even thinking, the words, “Think first to understand and then to be understood,” popped out of my mouth. It was one of the seven habits of highly effective people, something I dreaded learning about in high school. As I kept walking I began to enter hill country and with that, an overwhelming sense of familiarity. It reminded me of Maryland. The next town I entered was where I’d stay for the night. I arrived a couple hours before dusk and as I entered the city limit I couldn’t help but notice all the shiny, new cars. I was on the wealthy side of town. I noticed a man in a suit and tie watering his lawn while talking business on the phone. I felt like I was on a different planet. However, as I reached the city park I noticed that there was a heavy transient population despite all the children blissfully running around. I knew it wouldn’t be a suitable place to sleep but I didn’t really have anywhere else to go at that point. I sat down at a picnic table and a guy soon approached me. He just started talking and then came and sat across from me. I tolerated the conversation, trying to be polite, but it was strange. I continued to investigate the resources in the town while he talked and then he asked, “Do you mind if I take a bump?” I had no idea what he was talking about and after inquiring he made a snorting motion. “Ah, cocaine,” I thought. I appreciated his thoughtfulness but told him it probably wasn’t the best place with all the kids running around. In hopes of finding a place to sleep, I called the police department and when I mentioned I was at the park he told me, “Be careful. There are lots of transients around.” I thought humorously, “Yea, I know. There is one sitting across from me.” He didn’t seem dangerous so I remained polite and wished him well before I left to try to find a place to sleep. The officer told me there was a city ordinance against camping on public areas so I had to keep searching. I reached the outskirts of town and noticed two guys standing near their fence gate. It is always easier to approach people about camping on their lawn when they’re already outside so I approached them. I asked about camping on their property and he looked at me and gave me a hug before saying, “Did you know this was a Burning Man after party?” He welcomed me to his art studio and showed me the art car he and his friends had used in the Burning Man festival a few weeks before. As more people arrived to the gathering, my tired spirits were rejuvenated and I had amazing conversations about traveling around the world, mindfulness, and biking across the country. One of the women I met was Susie. She wanted to connect me with her friend in the town I’d be walking through the next day or so. “We’ll just pick you up in the helicopter and drop you off at her place.” “Wait, what?” I thought with a slight excitement rising in me.

Nevada Highlights Part 2

In order to save time in the morning, I began to skip breakfast and eat either granola bars or spam as I began walking. When I got to the next town, Battle Mountain, I began seeing state troopers again and got excited. When were they going to stop and talk to me? One passed slowly and read the sign on my cart and the rest I waved to. As I got to the downtown exit I saw one pull onto the shoulder of the exit ramp and I wondered if he wanted to talk to me. Maybe he thought I was going to exit? So, I went out of my way to walk towards the state trooper but when I approached his vehicle all he did was wave back at me. I didn’t even get a window rolled down. I reached the town limit and saw a sheriff’s vehicle hiding in a shady spot in the median, waiting for speeders. As I walked by I waved, called “hello,” and waved again. He clearly looked at me but ignored me. I became a bit discouraged after that. The law enforcement had become one of my sources of entertainment and socialization. I was walking when their shift began and ended and as I crossed into different counties the officers changed. There was a state trooper further out that was driving loops on his route and I found it humorous that each time he drove by he obliged in waving back to me. I’m assuming it was the same officer anyways. I felt like that friend that decides that they’re your friend before you know they even exist. When I wasn’t waving to strangers, I was completely spaced out. One of my main thoughts was, “Life is a dream.” I began to feel a rush to finish the walk yet I no longer knew what my reality was. As I began to think about finishing I became incredibly overwhelmed. How do I even get through tomorrow?

I woke up in the dirt under a bridge at my usual 4:30am. My circadian rhythm had adjusted to this yet my body continued to fight it. As I finally began to move, a truck pulled into the dirt parking area next to the construction equipment. He must’ve gotten to the job site early. I threw my things together and rushed to get to my cart, which was hidden behind the construction equipment. As I took the entrance ramp back onto the interstate, I tried to pretend that it was perfectly normal for someone to pop out of nowhere and start pushing a cart on the interstate at 5am. Several hours later, I met Damion. The alternator on his RV had gone out and this time he couldn’t fix it. I offered the use of my phone but he had no one to call. I asked if he had food and water and he did. He was well prepared for his desert travels, apart from having unreliable transportation. His elderly dad was still in the vehicle and I hoped that they’d be able to get their RV fixed before it got 100°F. They were on a road trip to visit his father’s school friend and to bond. Despite being no use to his vehicle situation, Damion thanked me for the conversation and I continued. I passed a state trooper that had a car pulled over on the side of the road and he asked me if I needed water. As I walked by the car receiving the ticket, I could see the inhabitants staring at me and grinning. I wanted to talk to them but I didn’t think the officer would’ve appreciated that. My last three miles of the day were the worst. A storm rolled in and the wind gusts blew sand and dirt into the sky. I kept my head down and tried to push my cart uphill. It looked like I was walking into a wall of darkness. The visibility decreased  and the brightness from car headlights were the only hint that vehicles were still on the road. Despite these conditions I needed to continue. I was so close to my end point! The bright side to this situation was that the dirt flying in my face distracted me from the pain in my joints. As I reached the bridge, I found out that I was at an exit for a prison. No one was going to stop to talk to me here but I wondered if people would call the police. This bridge was exposed and there was no where to sleep. I knew with my limited options I’d have to continue to find shelter. It was suppose to start drizzling. I’d seen a few culverts and hoped I’d find one suitable to sleep in. About a 1/2 mile further, I discovered one hidden by the tall, yellow foliage. I was excited about the shelter but I prayed that it wasn’t raining harder elsewhere because then I’d be flooded out.

I no longer can tolerate the taste or smell of oatmeal and I don’t have the time in the mornings to force feed myself. The result, I eat cold spam and poptarts as I walked my first mile. My fatigue only grew worse and after seven miles I needed a new game plan. I put in my earbuds and began jamming to the band, “Rainbow Kitten Surprise.” The beats were uplifting and it altered the wavelengths in my brain to help me see the world more positively. My pace quickened and eased my discomfort. Walking was once again bearable. My first motorcycle state trooper stopped to talk to me but his questions didn’t seem like they came from a place of curiosity but rather inquisitive to see if I was a person of concern. Throughout the day, him and the other state troopers did oblige in waving to me as they passed and of course I appreciated each acknowledgement. With a few miles left, a woman called Marebear stopped to offer me food. She talked to me, gave me gatorade and a peach, and then a hug. My energy level spiked after meeting her. She was on her way home after spending at least a week in the desert at the Burning Man festival. Finally, I ended up at a rest stop except they aren’t what they are in Utah. There was a giant building that had pit toilets room after room and they smelled horrendous. Not to mention, you thought you’d be consumed by the flies. I walked up to the signs that talked about the history of the California Trail and then I heard, “Where are you going?” The voice came from Gary, a retired history teacher that was on his bucket list trip. He’d seen me out of the corner of his eye as he was driving away from the rest stop and something told him to turn around. When I told him my name was Amanda his grin, which I didn’t think could get bigger, doubled in size. “You’re kidding?! Amanda means worthy of love” he said. Gary’s mother, daughter, and cousin were all named Amanda and now he discovered another one! He worked with an organization, Students Against Violence Everywhere, and gave me a copy of his book. I loved listening to his stories and how excited he was about telling them but my body was exhausted. I was standing and could feel the blood flush from my face. I had to sit down or I’d pass out. I attempted to keep my cool and sit while I grabbed a fun sized snickers to eat. He could see the color change in my face and encouraged me to do what I needed to do. Before he left he told me that he’d “adopted me into his heart.”

35 miles down the road, my longest day, and after walking 10 plus miles in a construction zone ( a good thing, I had a full lane to myself) I ended up in the home of Alex and Lisa. They were my hosts for the night and they made tacos! I was excited to see how excited they were to host me. It was wonderful and exactly what I needed. They convinced me to stay a day and took me to North Lake Tahoe to experience the beach. I couldn’t believe the beauty or the peacefullness. I floated on a floatie  for a few minutes but feared being taken away by the current. My arms were too short to effectively paddle in any direction so I stayed close to shore. When we returned to their home they pointed out wild horses to me. My mind was blown! Alex described to me that they’ll sometimes roam through the neighborhood and eat the grass off of people’s lawns. Which eventually leads to them pooping there too. As I got ready for the following day, Alex made me a map that showed the bike route that went through Reno. The bike route itself had a few signs but they weren’t easy to see and could be misleading.

I ditched my jogging stroller and began backpacking once again. I not only didn’t want to have to push that thing over the Sierra mountains but my resources (food and water) were no longer 100 miles apart. Alex warned me that I’d see homeless people along the bike route but it wasn’t what I expected. When I thought of homeless people in the middle of a city I thought of mentally ill and unpredictable. There were makeshift shelters hidden in the trees and tall grass but most were tents. In the early morning, the owners of them were breaking camp and getting ready for their day. It was strange for me because I was no different from them in that instance. The fact that they were putting their tents up gave me the impression that they cared about their belongings and themselves. I didn’t know their situation but I saw the humanity behind their actions. They were just trying to do the best they could. When I walked past some of them I made sure to say “hello” and their “hello” back would be filled with enthusiasm and then they’d ask, “How are you?” A few individuals did look concerning yet I had no problems with them. There was one man sleeping on steps and he looked severely uncomfortable. Couples were outstretched on the grass in between layers of blankets. I wanted to talk to them to learn and better understand but I refrained. They were just trying to get through each day like I was. I continued to follow the bike route through various neighborhoods and the signage was confusing. I definitely would’ve gotten lost if it was not for the map Alex made me. I walked past a man and his dog standing outside their  home and the dog wanted to say hello. When the man called back his dog the dog looked distressed. He looked torn between listening to his owner and investigating me so I asked the man if I could pet his dog. The man, Phillip, asked if I needed water and even though I still had 2 liters, it never hurt to top it off. He thought I was just a random walker but when I explained what I was doing he became enthralled. He gave me a bag of doritos and a chair to sit in while we exchanged stories. He grew up in California in a rough neighborhood and in order to break the poverty cycle his mother told him that he had to be smarter than she was and his kids had to be smarter than him. He shared with me how proud he was to be paying his bills himself, unassisted, and that his kids are doing well. He really had no interest going on a grand adventure like I was because he was happy working so that his children could have the opportunity to do whatever they wanted. It was another beautiful perspective on life, one of love and self-sacrifice.

Nevada Highlights Part 1

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.

Utah Highlights Part 2

After 15 miles, I reached the rest stop along the interstate and sat at a shaded picnic table under an awning. I watched people come and go in their vehicles and wondered where they were going and what their stories were. One man stood out to me, he had a beat up RV and was traveling alone. His body language told me that he was looking for something and when he noticed me sitting alone I picked up on what it was. He was lonely and wanted someone to interact with. He approached me and asked if I wanted any cereal, the only thing he had to share. Having just eaten my oatmeal, I declined yet I wanted to talk to him and free him from his solidarity. He was searching for human connection, something I was far too familiar with, but I was about to leave and I had gathered the vibe that if I interacted with him he’d become clingy. He left to another picnic table but appeared a few minutes later and asked if I wanted any smokes. I empathized with his attempts to interact and although I couldn’t give him conversation, I tried to be polite and genuine. As I continued walking I told him to “Have a wonderful day,” and disappeared into the distance. I eventually reached my destination and was quite happy with it. It was a bridge perpendicular to the interstate below it and had cement barriers I was able to hide my cart behind. The vehicles zoomed past me unknowing of my existence. As the sun began to set a desert storm began to rally and the harsh winds raised unease within me. Lightning flashed across the sky and caused my thoughts to run wild. “Do bridges work the same as caves when it comes to conductivity?” I didn’t know the science behind it but I determined that having shelter above me was better than being exposed to the elements. My perceived danger was high and I fought to keep calm. Time was my only salvation so I walked up the ramp to the small, flat space under the bridge and prepared for a restless night. The concrete was stained with layers of bird poop so I used my rain fly as a ground cloth. The bridge amplified the sounds of the semi-trucks racing by and that became my terror for the night. No headphones and no music could’ve drowned out that alarming sound but I tried anyway. An attempt to save my sanity. That evening I prayed for my safety from the lightning and then as I stared into the darkness I prayed that morning would come sooner rather than later. The lightning eventually stopped but the roaring of the semi-trucks never ceased.

The terrain drastically changed to the salty wonderland known as the salt flats. It was an exciting day for me, I would see the “Tree of Life” (a giant metal tree sculpture along the interstate) and reach the Bonneville Salt Flats (where the land speed record was broken). I made my way to the Bonneville Rest Stop and as I entered the parking lot a man stood by his car waiting for me. He greeted me with enthusiasm and told me he was an artist/photographer and had seen me as he traveled east three hours before. He shared his stories with me and although I was excited to talk to him my body was weak with dehydration. I had to steady myself with my cart. I walked towards the picnic tables and a woman popped her head from around the corner. “Are you walking? Do you want tea or water or both? Do you need money?” She handed me ice cold tea and water and scavenged a few dollars from her family in the car. The woman’s teenage daughter donated a few dollars from her personal stash and that meant so much to me. It was one of the moments where I felt like I was able to empower and inspire a young woman to face the world and follow her dreams. After that, my world was quiet again and I observed. Families ran and bicycled along the salt flats and couples took pictures together. Individuals heading to Burning Man (artistic festival of self-expression in Nevada) danced in the salt and I admired their kindred spirits. I began to feel a slight longing to share the beautiful landscape with my loved ones yet despite this, there was bliss in the air. The salt flats held a familiarity to me but I wasn’t sure if it was simply from a movie I’d seen or the stories my dad had shared with me from when he traveled on his motorcycle through the areas I was now walking. Regardless, it felt right to be there and I knew one thing: I had to sleep on the salt. As dusk approached I did exactly that, I stepped into the ocean of salt. “How far should I go?” I wondered to myself. I observed car tracks embedded into the salt and I began to fear a car running over me in the middle of the night. I walked for twenty minutes and deemed the spot no better or worse than the rest of the exposed terrain around me. I laid reflectors around my sleeping area hoping any roaming cars would avoid them. Even in this peaceful place I couldn’t avoid deadly thoughts. After all, every night I discover something new that could possibly kill me. I stared at the Milky Way above me and wondered my place in the universe. “How have I made it this far in life?” The stars glittered the sky and the crescent moon maneuvered across the sky as time passed. I let go of my worries while the sound of the interstate became white noise and peace fell over me.

After my first 100 mile stretch without any towns, I finally made it to Wendover. During the twelve miles, I was terribly unfocused and the walking took forever (shocker right?). When I got there I received an email from a gentleman that I’d met a few days prior. He told me he’d found me a place to stay and within the email were instructions. I’d met him when I walked under a bridge and noticed a man taking pictures of me on the road above. I waved hello and he walked down to talk to me. “Are you walking across the country?” he asked. I was extremely excited to have him know what I was doing rather than him thinking I was a stranded woman with a baby. Anyways, the instructions on how to get to the place and find the keys were like a scavenger hunt. Despite the heat, I was excited. I found myself in a part of town at the edge of a small airfield walking past historic hangers where pilots were trained to deliver the atomic bomb. The building that I’d be staying in was an office trailer that had been renovated into a retro living unit. It may have been one of the coolest interiors I’d ever seen. It was a work of art. I took the afternoon to rest and stretch out my muscles. I was at the Nevada state line and knew that I’d have to push myself physically further than I’d ever had before.

Utah Highlights Part 1

Hello all of you beautiful people!

Utah came and went in a blur but the multi-colored desert mountains continue to grasp my heart. For the first week I had the opportunity to walk with another cross-country hiker. Johnathan, and together we experienced our first Utah hail storm. Throughout the day a black wall of darkness inched its way across the sky towards us along highway 40. Within that darkness there was a concentrated area of white streaks falling from the sky. With dread, I knew what was coming and the universe must’ve thought it’d be funny to throw Murphy’s Law into the equation. Johnathan was pushing a supply cart for the desert portion to come and as we watched the storm near he had not one but two flat tires. The culprit? A staple. This is why we don’t throw staples out the window.. As anxiety and frustration rose within Johnathan I reassured him to take his time. The flat tires needed to be fixed right the first time. We got his cart moving again and then the down pour of dime sized hail began. There weren’t any trees to shelter under and the only thing I knew how to do was to push through it. I had faith that if it was bad enough a kind-hearted individual  would stop to help. Johnathan on the other hand yelled, “I’m ditching the cart!” “You can’t ditch the cart!” I exclaimed back. “There’s an overhang, I’m ditching the cart,” Johnathan stated as he pointed into the distance and took off running. I barely identified the overhang through the downpour and immediately ran after him as my brain tried to calculate the plausibility of climbing the incline in the mud. We made it and were fortunate to have the wind in our favor. We watched the aggressive pellets of ice bestow themselves on the ground causing traffic to pull off onto the side of the road. The situation seemed utterly ridiculous at this point and we both began to laugh off the chaos that’d just occurred. We looked off into the distance and spotted a rainbow on the horizon and we knew that we could continue on our way.

Once I got into the Provo area I was able to begin my search for my very own jogging stroller. I figured my most cost efficient solution would be checking out the local KSL website (similar to Craigslist) and after scanning through a variety of profiles I found one I wanted to inquire about. The only problem was that I was unsure of my means of transportation. The logistical nightmare began as I contacted the woman about the cart and tried to match a pick up time that meshed with my friend, Amalia’s, schedule. At some point, I knew that I would need to break the news to the woman that I was in a different boat than most people, aka walking across the country. “Why?” you ask. I felt transparency was the best way to go when I had an unknown means of transportation and an unknown time availability. Thankfully, she wasn’t weirded out about it, to my knowledge anyways, and as soon as I had the logistics figured out I was enroute to her house. The cart was more than I’d hoped for! Everything easily detached and it folded up beautifully to fit in the car. The tires needed a bit of maintenance but that was expected. My next task was to learn how to change a flat tire. Simple thing to do right? Well, it is when you have the proper tools. Between my hands, a flathead screwdriver from my pocket knife, and an old tire I spent several hours trying to break the seal on the tire. In the process I inadvertently tore through the tube itself. Whoops.. To some degree I created more problems for myself yet I gained a satisfaction from learning from my mistakes. I noted that I needed something less sharp to work with on the tube and that the old tires were a pain in the butt, thus I should get new ones. After a day of trial and error, I felt competent problem solving with flat tires and ready to take on the road!

Day one with my stroller, dubbed Nugget, was an adjustment to say the least. I had to walk out of the city and find my way to a bike trail. What should’ve been simple turned ridiculous when Google Maps insisted I should walk through a golf course to get there. My instincts told me that I probably shouldn’t walk through yet being unfamiliar to the area I decided to try. It was one of those “act confidently and maybe no one will stop me” moments. I circled the front office, I’d already missed a turn, and as I was about to turn onto the course I hear, “Ma’am, you can’t go there.” Keep in mind, I’m pushing a giant red jogging stroller. There was no blending in. I told him I was trying to get to the bike trail and Google Maps told me to go that way. He gave me directions to the public entrance to the bike trail and went back to his business. The morning was filled with small frustrations. The tiny, hard front wheel struggled to roll and when it was time to push the cart up a steep gradient it became a beast of burden. With these realizations, I came to the decision that pushing the cart up a dirt road, over a mountain, to avoid 12 miles was NOT a good idea. At the day’s end, I’d stopped thinking about what people thought about my cart as they drove by and eventually ended up at a city park for the night. It looked decent and children ran around and played on the playground equipment. As dusk fell, I began to maneuver to what I’d hoped to be an ideal sleeping spot. I’d stopped trusting the grass because of radical sprinkler systems throughout he night and instead headed to the concrete baseball area. There were cement bleachers and at the top there was a covered section where the announcers sat. “Perfect!” I thought. I hauled my cart up the bleachers and began laying out my bedding. Headlights soon turned into the parking lot so I stopped what I was doing and observed. Something strange was going on. The single car would drive a few feet and sit there. I could see the illumination of a cell phone but nothing more. The car advanced a few more feet and sat there. Then, I heard a voice from below me and in the shadowy darkness I saw a figure walk to the trash can. I sat silently and waited. The figure, now on a bicycle, went up to the vehicle but the words were indistinguishable. The figure soon disappeared yet a SUV appeared and slowly maneuvered around the parking lot. It was nearing 11pm at this point and I was tired. I wanted to rest. The SUV drove away yet the original car continued to display bizarre behavior except now it was slowly progressing towards the exit. My guess was that there was a sort of drug deal occurring but the part that disturbed me the most was waiting. I didn’t know what they were actually doing so I sat in the darkness and observed my surroundings while gripping mace and double knotting my shoes, ready to run if need be. I continued to watch the car, now sitting near the exit, and then I saw the red and blue flash of police lights. What was going on?? I wish I knew. A few minutes later a second police officer arrived to the scene but I still had no way of knowing what was occurring. With that, I figured any sketchy business was over with and fell into a light sleep while the red and blue lights flickered in the distance.

After a long day of rerouting due to construction, I was fed up. I walked 20 miles and only 6 of them were progressive. Along with that the only alternative reroute was arguably more dangerous than the original highway under construction. There was maybe a foot of shoulder, I’m pushing a massive jogging stroller, and there are semi-trucks passing me on a busy two lane road. To make matters worse, there was still construction. I was furious the majority of the day and that was when I decided that for better or for worse I would begin walking on the interstate. I’d heard mixed things about walking along it though. Some people had told me that it was illegal while others told me they’d read about people doing it in books. I had to take a leap of faith and try. The road conditions were getting ridiculous. I scouted out the entrance ramp in the late afternoon and began my entry. My hands gripped onto the stroller handle bars and my jaw clenched together. “Act like you’re suppose to be here,” I told myself. Anxiety swelled within me and the sound and wind of the semi-trucks disturbed me. I immediately noticed two differences between highways and interstates on this busy section: 1) the cars care a whole lot less about you 2) the roadkill is unidentifiable. After about 45 minutes, a state trooper pulled over next to me. “What are you doing?” After a brief explanation his only response was, “why would you want to do that?” He didn’t seem keen on getting the details so I didn’t provide my more meaningful answers. Before he left he asked his main question, “You don’t have a baby in there do you?” He was responding to a call about a woman with a baby. Relief flooded over me. It appeared there wasn’t a problem walking along the interstate. Thirty minutes go by and another state trooper pulls over, in front of me this time. He gets out and visually checks the cart and asks what I’m doing. I’d just entered a new dispatch zone so he had no idea what was going on when he received word that there was a woman with a baby. He jotted down all of my driver’s license info and my cell phone number “in case something happened to me.” He was prepping for when I disappeared or had heat stroke along the salt flats. With that now at the forefront of my mind, he offered me a ride into town for the night. However, I declined. I needed to make up mileage for all the detours I had during the day. I walked until the last bit of light hit the horizon and then I found a ditch encompassed by grass the height of corn. I would be hidden from the night traffic yet there were no barriers to the sound of the engines roaring past.


Holly to Summaries…

I got word that my grandparents wanted to make the three hour drive to come visit me so I set into play a walking schedule that would match their timeframe. A short, ten mile day took me into the next town where I knew one thing: I wanted to visit the Japanese-American Internment Camp. I knew the basics of the history from school but nothing in depth. I also figured it’d be easy enough to find a place to stealth camp in addition to a probable water source. I turned left onto a small residential street and a man, Daniel, called to me, “Where are you headed?” I stopped and walked over to him, excited to have someone to talk to. He told me that there wasn’t much at the “Jap Camp,” but the museum was just around the corner and it was filled with items that were donated by family members of those held in the camp. In addition, I asked about places to camp and he told me there was a park but he didn’t mind me setting up on his lawn. I was grateful for the offer. I’d rather camp on someone’s lawn than the park simply because I knew I was allowed to be there and there would be less of a chance of people stumbling upon my tent in the middle of the night. I meandered to the museum and was amazed by the displays, photos, letters, and overall history of Camp Amache. I somehow found a small town that housed a significant part of U.S. history that some people seemingly tried to forget. I made my way back to Daniel’s house in hopes of dropping my pack off before heading to Camp Amache. I caught Daniel right as he was about to leave to take his two chihuahuas on a ride around town so he invited me along and said we could drive through the camp too. Amache was a massive plot of land that now only held signs of where buildings once were. A water tower, guard tower, and a barrack had been reconstructed to display what life would have been like for the internees at Amache. I was amazed by all of it and had so many questions! Amache was basically a separate town, only a few miles away from Granada, and while it was active it had roughly 7,500 people there while the actual town, Granada, only had roughly 700. That is a huge difference! Amache had its own school system where kids graduated and a hospital where people were born and died and all the while it was surrounded by a barbed wire fence with machine guns. When the camp was disbanded, all of the infrastructures were demolished and no one seemed to know why. The buildings could have been incorporated into the town of Granada yet I presumed the reason for the demolishment was the shame that surrounded the discrimination and encampment of Japanese-Americans. As Daniel drove from one area of the camp to the next he told me stories about his dad visiting the camp and playing softball with them. He showed me the lesser known cemetery and the grave sites of the Japanese-Americans that died fighting in the war despite the discrimination that tore them from their homes. I was in awe of the history that surrounded me; so much was once in this area but now only desert plants and animals filled the space. Daniel then drove me around town and shared the town’s history. Its heyday surrounded the onion farming but as the water rights to the area were bought up there was no longer enough water to sustain the onion crops and thus the decline of the town began. He’d point to one house on the corner of a street and tell me that was where he grew up. The house across the street was where his aunt use to live and further down was his brother’s home. Everyone knew each other and with the small town gossip people were now wondering who I was. Daniel shared some of his struggles in his life and he’d overcome an incredible amount of adversity: he relearned to walk twice due to illnesses, he’d faced discrimination and favoritism his entire life, and then had to deal with family drama surrounding greed. He had every reason to be bitter towards the world but instead he took every opportunity to give. So then I wondered, “What made someone greedy or giving?” Daniel went through the effort to get homemade tortillas and cooked refried beans, sausage, fideo (a noodle concoction), and cheese. It was so good and I surprised Daniel with how much I ate. I’d finally found my serendipitous human connection.

Hello all! Yes, I’m still alive and kicking. I wanted to give a synopsis of things I’ve been going through and thinking. I’ve been in Colorado for longer than I planned but I know I experienced everything I needed to. In south eastern Colorado, my grandparents came to visit me and it made me feel incredibly loved. We visited Old Bent’s Fort together and took my baby cousin on an off road excursion on the trails surrounding John Martin Reservoir. I was still battling with my commitment to the trail and 40 miles down the road via my grandparents it didn’t get any better. I no longer knew what to call my walk because frankly I’d been taking rides. I knew I needed to get to the mountains but would I even feel any different at that point?

Solo again, I let fear consume me on the 25 mile stretch between Manzanola and Boone. There was no water and houses were non-existent and I wasn’t able to escape the heat of the day. As I walked down the road, cars occasionally zooming by, I cried out to myself, ” You are strong, you are resilient, and you are incredible.” I didn’t believe those words and I felt torn apart as tears rolled down my face. I repeated the words for at least an hour while I walked but I don’t know if I actually believed myself. Eventually, I was able to calm down but the heat only increased and my water supply dwindled.

Near Pueblo, there were three families that I stayed with that were part of the same Mennonite church community and I’d been connected with them by a wonderful woman named Barbara. I’d never met Barbara but she was friends with a family I stayed with in Ohio and she reached out to me about staying with her extended family in Colorado. It worked out perfectly and for the 4th of July I stayed with her sister’s family, Mary and Lewis, and got to watch a firework show with them. I was truly blessed. During my time with these three families I inquired about their relationship with God and everyone was open and spoke freely about their personal relationships with him.

In Canon City, my driver’s license fell out of my pocket when I carelessly forgot to put it in it’s rightful place, my ziploc bag wallet. I didn’t notice until later that day, when I was in the mountains, and I felt foolish but kept walking. I told myself it would work out, it had to. I said a small prayer at night and tried to deny the problems that could occur by not having it but two days later I received a picture of it on my phone with the message “Leaving a trail?” It was another hiker, Jonathan, that had been close behind me for weeks! I was incredibly relieved and couldn’t deny the comedy in the situation. I’d meet up with him at some point to get it back. A few days later, I found out that Jonathan and I were only 7 miles apart but I’d just decided to alter my route to Denver! We were so close but so far and now we were headed in different directions!

When I got to the Denver area I reserved a week to visit family and friends in the area as well as meet some fellow cross-country hikers. Logistically, getting from place to place was a nightmare but everyone was gracious enough to drop me off where I needed to be. In this time, I was able to get to know extended family that before I may have only met a handful of times. They were family but I never had the opportunity to get to know them. After being housed and fed and then being told that “That is what family is for,” I’d never felt more love or access to a support system in my life. In Texas growing up, it was my parents, brother, and I and the rest of the extended family were in Oregon or Colorado. This idea of a larger family unit of support and love was unknown to me until this point. The night before I planned to start walking again, my phone jumped out of my hand onto solid tile and the screen broke. I knew I couldn’t walk without my phone so I spent another week with family which wildly welcomed me. In this week, without connection to the virtual world and the people and places far from me I had an epiphany. I was incredibly distraught and anxious without being able to contact people but I realized I had stopped living in the present moment. My phone was always with me and at any notification I’d immediately investigate. This is where my blog comes into play as well. In an effort to be more present I’ve stopped worrying about the blogging process. Don’t get me wrong, I love sharing my stories and experiences but it is time and energy consuming. With that being said, I wanted to thank all my friends and family in the Denver area that transported, housed, and loved me unconditionally.

After two weeks of rest, I was once again walking. 22 miles felt good but when I made it into town and began to rest a sensation of light headedness and nausea over came me. How could I be getting altitude sickness?? I’d been at 8,000ft for two weeks. I sat on the floor of a small ampitheater at the edge of town and started getting tunnel vision. In my pack, I had a small canister of oxygen for the trek over the 13,000ft Mosquito Pass and thought it couldn’t hurt now. Well, I was wrong. As I regained consciousness it felt like I was waking up from a dream. My right contact jumped out of my eye and onto my shoulder. My first movement with my heavy arms was to retrieve it and stick it back into my eye. The second, I sent a brief text message to my friend, James who is also walking across the country, and explained I’d just passed out. I was concerned about what to do next so I just sat there and waited for my body to recover. I was in town but no one was around. I knew I’d need to move soon. I came to two conclusions then: oxygen isn’t always the answer and I’d just got one of my worst fears out of the way. I meandered to a nearby shop, The Sasquatch Outpost, and went to buy postcards and stickers telling about Big Foot. The woman at the cash register, Daphne, thought I was on the Colorado Trail and pointed out a hostel I could stay at. I wasn’t willing to pay the fee to set up my tent on the property though and was going to find a spot in the woods some where. Then, Daphne offered her home to me. I’m unsure if she’d heard the emotion in my voice but I was grateful to her and still a bit uneasy about passing out. Later, her and her husband told me about the first hand encounters with Big Foot in the area. I was fascinated but soon realized it probably wasn’t the best to hear these stories before I went into the woods solo. Some of the things I learned were that UFO and Big Foot sightings are correlated, Big Foot can disappear into a blue light which means that they may be trans-dimensional creatures, they are believed to be curious about people but are also here to teach us, they can communicate by knocking on trees, and if you hear strange noises outside your tent you shouldn’t investigate.

After spending a couple days in Leadville I was on my way into the wilderness and had to climb over Hagerman Pass. I ended up only having four hours of sleep because I watched my host brew beer, which is a four hour process in itself, and enjoyed the social gathering around it. I made my way up the railroad grade road and as I neared the top of the pass I began spouting profound curse words into the thin air. I walked towards the sign that said, “Hagerman Pass, Continental Divide,” and said out loud to myself, “I think I’m going to cry.” I began sobbing and looked out into the westward mountains. It was more beautiful than when I went over Mosquito Pass. I didn’t feel relief or joy though but I believe all my frustrations being released. My entire journey through Colorado had been trickled with the idea of quitting and the only thing that stopped me was my disbelief in my emotions. I learned that in my depression and wanting to quit that if I managed to take a step forward, focus my attention elsewhere, or even sleep I’d wake up and feel okay again. At least until the next quitting spell emerged.

I found myself in round two of my wilderness travels and this time I unintentionally had another 11,000ft mountain to climb. What was special about this mountain though was that it wasn’t an up and down thing. You hike vertically up and then it continues upwards and then you’re at the “peak.” Except it isn’t a peak. Instead it is a giant meadow on top of the mountain and it felt like the rolling hills of Ohio. This was grand and beautiful until the afternoon thunderstorms rolled in and I realized there was no escape. First rain and then pebble sized pieces of hail fell from the sky. I embraced the dampness and the cold pieces of frozen water and told the sky “Now, there won’t be any thunder and lightning until I get off the mountain.” I thought there was an agreement but it must’ve been one sided because the clouds above me began to growl with thunder. I keep my cool and hastened my pace as I told the sky to “cut it out.” Then there was a flash of lightening and immediate thunder. Before I could completely process the danger I was in, I bolted off the road into the wild flowers towards the blue skies. I hurdled over the holes and used my trekking poles like a pole vaulter. I’d never felt such a sense of primal fear and my instinct was to get the hell out of there. My pack weighed me down and added an awkwardness to my stride but when I reached another road, one I hoped I was suppose to be on, I paused and began hyperventilating. “I have no where to go!” I screamed at the sky. I was sobbing and struggled to get my breathing under control. I was getting further from the storm but still didn’t feel safe. I couldn’t stop there. With my labored breathing I continued on my way all while praying I wasn’t going to get struck by lightning.

The next day I climbed further up onto this mountain onto Blair Mountain. I’d had a heck of a time with the vertical battle but I eventually made it. I went over one hump on the mountain and saw a vehicle and a man with a pink sheet he was waving around. I got closer and saw that it was an American flag he was flinging back and forth. Remember, I’m in the wilderness still and hadn’t seen people in two days. I kept walking and then I saw a woman sitting on a blanket. I asked her what they were doing and she explained that they were stranded on the mountain, their gas tank had been knocked off from the steep, rocky road. I was dumbfounded by the situation. I found two amazing people stranded on a mountain! On her blanket she had a pet bearded dragon and a snake she’d found and she let me play with them. The woman, Sherry, invited me to sit with them while they waited for her son to come rescue them. The man, Larry, was off trying to flag someone down while hawk watching and picking wild flower bouquets for Sherry and me. I was just amazed. I hadn’t talked to anyone in two days and wanted to enjoy their company so I sat on top of the mountain with them. Sherry makes and sells bearded dragon harnesses and I helped her sew beads onto them and in the process she told me portions of her life story. What a beautiful situation I happened upon! Sherry’s son arrived right before the afternoon thunderstorms began and thus began the multi-hour towing process down the mountain while freezing rain poured from the sky. I was ready to get off the mountain and more thankful than ever to be sheltered in a vehicle.

Lakin to Coolidge

I spent roughly a week in Texas and was surprised how easily I meshed back into the routine of things. I never felt restless or out of place but rather a sense of belonging. I’d spent the majority of my life in this neighborhood and I reclaimed hope in the idea that I wouldn’t be a jumbled mess after I reached the Pacific Ocean. I looked forward to returning to the trail and when my parents notioned at maybe staying two weeks I was quick to share my intention of only one. I swapped out some of my gear and decided to ditch other things, in hopes of a losing pack weight. I realized one of my favorite parts about walking was that I got to enter people’s lives in what sometimes was the most opportune moment, which gave me a sense of purpose.  So, Saturday morning my mother and I embarked on the 8 hour drive back to Kansas. I had never been more grateful for the love and compassion she radiated.

My first day back on the ADT felt odd. My feet were on the ground but my head was in the clouds. Was this all a dream? Before I’d left the hotel room I couldn’t help but create a metaphor for the fly that was trapped in the room. It could see the outside world, freedom and life, yet the window and walls were acting as barriers. The metaphor was for a person’s life except the walls were self-built mental obstacles. As I left the outskirts of Lakin, a guy pulled over and asked me if I wanted a ride to the Colorado line, 45 miles away. This was my way out! Yet, I couldn’t allow myself to set the tone of taking the easy way out. I felt I had a vendetta against Kansas and needed to walk out of the state, with my head high. Throughout the day, four more people had offered me a ride and a motorcyclist and sheriff stopped to check on me. Out of my five months of walking, I’d never had so many people offer me rides or have a state trooper and sheriff stop for me. The state trooper asked if I needed anything along with giving me helpful information about resources in Kansas. He told me about a church organization that set aside funds to help travelers with a place to stay and that I should check it out. I was very pleased with the interaction and now had something to look forward to that evening. I watched him drive away and promptly flick his red and blue lights on as he did a u-turn and pulled over a speeding individual, next to my walking path. I looked in the windshield of the individual pulled over and saw a composed face. I kept walking and passed the state trooper, he had the biggest grin. He was such a happy individual and that energy was just contagious. The town I had originally planned on stopping at turned out to be a mile off the highway and it didn’t look too promising. I decided to keep moving and then I saw a sign that said. “Now Entering Mountain Time.” Holy crap, I was excited to see that! It was my second time zone change I walked into and it gave me an extra hour of walking. Plus, I felt that much closer to the mountains! After 27 miles I finally walked into Syracuse and saw a parked RV with the logo “Sundance.” That was my trail name and I had an overwhelming feeling that I was being welcomed back to the trail. I meandered down Main Street in search of the sheriff’s office, to do the paperwork for a place to stay via the generosity of the church organization, and saw that everything was closed. It was 5pm on a Sunday and the street was deserted. I sat near the library and scanned the nooks and crannies for a place to set up my tent, a bit disappointed. I sat there eating popcorn, once again at a loss of where to go, when I asked the guy walking his dog about the location of the sheriff’s office, it wasn’t marked well. He wasn’t from the area but told me he’d just seen a deputy go inside. I had an inch of hope. I walked up to the door and it was unlocked but would anyone be at the desk? I went inside and called, “Hello?” I stood there and stared into the transparent glass. I could see a figure walking around in the back so I waited. I didn’t know if she heard me but I saw her finally head through the door towards me. I explained the situation and the sheriff working was the same one that had driven out of town to see if I needed anything. I did the paperwork and he made a few calls. He told me that the last time someone took advantage of this resource they destroyed the motel room and left evidence of drugs. He vouched for me to the motel owner and I promised I wouldn’t let him down. I was eternally grateful and appreciative to have a safe, comfortable place to sleep.

My morning started off with great conversation with an older gentleman over breakfast. He lived in Nevada but was in Kansas tending to his farm. It felt good having a conversation. I didn’t have questions flowing out of me or even good answers to respond to his but the effort was there. As I walked along the highway at least twenty cyclists must’ve passed me. They were jubilant and said hello while zooming past. I admired the numbers in which they biked together, tactfully using aerodynamics to be energy efficient. They worked as a team. It gave me excitement but it didn’t sustain while this other countering emotion rose within me. My breath quickened and my heart rate increased. Walking just didn’t seem right anymore. I didn’t want to be there and two phrases filled my head. The first, “If you wake up enough days in a row and aren’t happy with the situation, then something needs to change,” and the second being, “In the morning ask yourself if you want to walk or not and if the answer is no then don’t walk.” When I first read these words of advice they made sense but in practice they didn’t seem practical. I needed to walk to keep moving but I didn’t want to anymore. I found a shady spot next to the railroad and sat down. Several tears rolled down my cheeks but I wasn’t overly emotional. My thoughts circled around quitting. When I first started walking there was nothing else I really had to do, no other choices, but as I walked through my journey I’d seen and experienced things I wanted for myself. I wanted a community of people surrounding me that I could adventure with and rely on. I wanted some form of structure and stability. I wanted to learn about mental health so I could help people help themselves. All these things I wanted and none of them I could have while I kept walking. I wasn’t being present minded and that began my downfall. I was arguing with myself. What would be the consequences of quitting? What would they be if I kept walking? I knew one thing and that was I was determined to get to Holly (the first town I’d come to in Colorado). I was three miles from Coolidge and five from the Colorado state line. For the hour walking to Coolidge, I determined how I’d break the news to everyone. I thought about how I could word my failure into a success story and I was okay with that. It would’ve been like an underdog story where lessons were learned but they still didn’t manage to defeat the undefeated team. I would’ve used this failure as a learning experience all while knowing if I quit I wouldn’t return. I was okay with that too. Whilst all this was circling in my thoughts I knew there was one thing I could do to salvage my journey. I had met a guy Jonah aka DudeTrek last summer and he’d walked across the country in 2013. When I’d talked to him about his experiences walking he’d mentioned he had almost quit in Utah and that was what I was curious about. I wanted to know what changed his mind. The catch was, would this world traveler and adventurer (someone difficult to get a hold of) answer his phone? I had prayed for direction and I knew if he answered the phone it would be my sign. I arrived in Coolidge and settled myself at a shady picnic table and made the call to Jonah. It rang a few times and then went to a voicemail in spanish. I decided to try calling a high school friend, Keya, who was always filled with words of wisdom. Yet, as I told her about my thoughts on quitting I found myself hearing but not really listening to what she had to say. “I won’t let you quit,” she voiced passionately. I knew though, the only person that could make me keep walking was me and the majority of myself had decided to quit. I couldn’t call my parents to get me because I’d just been picked up and then brought back to Kansas. I’d have to look to my grandparents in north eastern Colorado to rescue me from my sinking ship. Then, mid-phone call with Keya my phone showed Jonah was calling me back. I let it ring through and waited for a fitting moment to tell Keya I’d call her back. I called Jonah again, wondering if it would even be him on the other end. This time he picked up! His voice was cheery as always and I tried to explain the situation while keeping my voice steady. He didn’t tell me to quit or not to quit rather he shared what was ahead of me and related to what I was feeling. I’d been feeling like I was floating in a third dimension separate from the world around me yet somehow still interacting with it. He reaffirmed things I already knew about the beauty of the mountains and the awesome people I’d continue to meet. As for what had kept him from quitting in Utah, he’d made a phone call to the Delaware state coordinator and received advice himself, “Never quit on a rainy day,” he was told. I asked Jonah how to fend off these sinking feelings because we both knew it would return. The more philosophical approach was to realize how strong one’s mental fortitude would be after all was said and done. Mentally, I would be a rock and nothing would tear me down. The practical approach would be to list my gratefuls. By saying the things I was grateful for I could redirect my thoughts towards a positive outlook. Even with this advice he kept it real with me. He confirmed my fears. It wouldn’t get better in Colorado. In fact, it would get worse and more desert like in the south eastern part of the state. With this knowledge, I decided to walk the two miles into Colorado knowing that I was willing to keep fighting.

Canton to Garden City

What am I doing here? This vast expansiveness has filled me with emptiness. I feel like I’m on a never ending death march. The towns I pass through are little oasises for life yet when I reach them at the end of the day, loneliness is what fills me. I walk for shade. I walk for water. The Kansans are kind and helpful people but they are weary. Everyone is more than willing to help but I have to ask for it. Sometimes, I don’t remember how. I know how to ask for water but how do you ask for good company?

At 4am my death march continued. After eating breakfast I still felt famished but the glow of the fireflies glittering the horizon above the wheat fields distracted me. I was surrounded by the predawn darkness and the sound of the oil rig’s click, click, click filled the air. The sun began to rise and as other’s began their day, I fought to continue mine. When I stopped walking I would zone out and tingling would begin to fill my limbs. I could feel my body becoming dead weight and my legs unable to bear the burden of me and my pack. I braced myself with my trekking poles, ready for the loss of my equilibrium. My body was quitting on me. I took a glucose tablet, hoping it would help, and kept going. Reaching McPherson would be my saving grace, I just had to get there. Once I got into town I called a woman, Jill, out of the blue and asked if she could host me. At her earliest convenience she came and picked me up from the nearby church where I’d been discovered sitting on the lawn. The pastor told me I could wait inside for Jill and in the mean time he asked me questions about my walk and introduced me to everyone that walked by. There was something about the way he asked his questions that told me he wanted more than a surface level response. So, I gave him the long versions. The long versions that helped me remember what I was doing and why. Jill came and got me and immediately took me to breakfast at her favorite cafe. She really felt like an angel. I ate a pecan, blueberry pancake that was the size of my face and all my troubles dissolved. She took me back to her home and showed me where I could rest. I slept the entire afternoon and only briefly woke up to feel the tingling, heavy weight of my arms. My body still needed more rest. In the evening, I went with Jill and her three granddaughters to go watch Wonder Woman and for the evening I was part of the family. From Jill I learned that I had an entire lifetime to live adventurously. That may sound silly but everyone tells me to “do it while you’re young,” as if the option to be spontaneous and adventurous only has a limited time span. With Jill, I saw her hunger for life sustained even though her body didn’t work as well as it did in her younger days. It gave me hope and made me wonder, “What’s next?”

I started walking at 6am and I felt good. I followed a gravel road the entire day and ended up at my 20 mile mark by noon. I sat under the shade of a tree and looked at my map. “What now?” The day was cool and I suddenly decided I didn’t want to waste the day. “I’m going to keep going,” I rashly decided. Ten more miles down the road and a total of eleven hours of walking, I walked through the doors of a Dairy Queen. That had been my motivation for the day, a salted caramel blizzard. While in there, a man told me about a spot for camping and showers and with that I reluctantly hobbled through town to find this spot. What a great relief it was once I got there.

I awoke at 4:45am and felt awful. Despite being dead tired I still woke up several times through the night. I had planned to do another thirty mile day but I had overestimated myself. It almost started to feel like an out of body experience as I took each step. At one point, I focused too much on that sensation and for a split second tingling soared through my entire body. What was happening to me? The chocolate chip granola bars I’d munch on began to make my stomach upset yet hunger grew within me. The dirt roads became sand pits, making it twice as hard to walk through, and then the trees disappeared. The landscape was fill with dead crops and flooded fields. My level of frustration with Kansas was increasing but I tried to tell my self to take it section by section. I listened to music and sang out loud along the country roads and occasionally stopped to serenade the herd of cattle I stumbled upon. After about 20 miles I knew I had to stop. My body wouldn’t tolerate another ten. I sat under a tree at the edge of town to rest. I couldn’t help but think how Kansas felt like a twilight zone. A car drove up the drive way to the property I was sitting on and a man, bent from the hip at a 90 degree angle, walked up to me and asked if I needed anything. He said he didn’t mind me setting up my tent but that there was a RV spot at the edge of town with bathrooms and showers. So I wandered a mile in that direction and scanned the park for its facilities. A pool with children screaming with glee were across the field and a man in a truck told me I could ask to use the pool showers. I made my way to the pool and got the okay before walking into the locker room with my stinky self and gear. Little girls ran through laughing until they saw me. Then, they looked terrified. I tried to crack a friendly smile as I hurried to the corner with a shower. I examined my worn body and pulled the stickers from my socks. My heels were blistering and my back was still being rubbed raw from my pack. I just had to make it four more days and then I could take a rest day.

 I wandered into town after another early morning and spotted a group of guys in neon yellow t-shirts ahead of me. They looked like they were making a game plan for the day’s work and I didn’t want to interrupt. I tried to quietly mosey by but as soon as I was spotted the boss called out to me, “You should work for us! We walk all day!” I was immediately drawn to the positive energy and excitement. I responded, “Depends, what’s the job?” They were pipeline surveyers and mostly from Texas! Talking to them made my morning and I thought it ironic that it took Texans in Kansas to be the ones to acknowledge me. I left town feeling the love from my fellow Texans and then a guy stopped and asked if I needed a ride. I declined but as he drove off I thought to myself, “I have a commitment to suffering.” It seemed twisted. I wanted out of Kansas but I just declined a ride. The wind was 20+ mph and I walked horizontally to continue forward. A SUV pulled over in front of me and Victor and Yvonne offered me water and then a ride. I felt that I needed to walk the remainder of the way and I didn’t need anymore water but I did find out that Victor’s mother lived in the next town. I asked if I could set my tent up in her lawn for the night and he made the phone call to ask. I was extremely pleased to have a destination for the night! We exchanged phone numbers so he could direct me to the house once I got closer and then kept walking with the offer of a ride hanging in the air if I changed my mind. Three miles down the road I stopped to rest under a shady tree and saw I had a message from Victor. “Need anything from Walmart?” I couldn’t think of anything but I knew from the message they were going to come see me once I got to his mother’s place. I was excited. I had a good feeling about Victor and Yvonne and I wanted to talk more with them. As I sat under the shade tree, seven miles left, I wondered why I was wearing my body down. What did I have to prove? My joints hurt and I had a lot of walking to do before I could get out of Kansas. So, I sent the message for him to come pick me up and threw in the towel for the day. Victor and Yvonne ended up offering me a shower and their couch and with that I got to listen to their life stories. They were with Bikers for Christ and shared how accepting Christ into their lives had saved them. They were starting a biker church where they shared the word of God through love and acceptance. All the while, Yvonne made sure I had plenty of food to eat and everything else I needed. They told me I was now part of the family and then offered to drive me to Dodge City, 80 miles away. I couldn’t accept that. That was a huge distance! Then again, I could. Kansas was hot, windy, and harvest season was about to start and that’d bring huge dust clouds. I agreed to the ride and it was settled that after church in the morning we’d go on an adventure to Dodge City.

Victor and Yvonne took me to their regular church, their biker church wasn’t meeting that day, and they assured me it was filled with love and acceptance. The service started with songs and everyone stood up and sang the word of God. It was lively and everyone seemed so happy. At the end, I went to the front with Yvonne and Victor. We had a prayer circle and held hands with the pastor and a few of the other members to pray for my journey. The amount of love I felt in those moments was overwhelming and I could feel emotion rising within me and tears starting to form in my eyes. The drive to Dodge City was quick and we stopped at Pawnee Rock and the U.S. halfway sign in Kinsley. They were going to drop me off at a motel but Victor had to approve of it first. The first two looked deserted and sketchy so we went on to the next. Motel 6 was settled on. Victor walked me up to my room and I knew it was strange for him. He had dedicated his life to protecting people and now he was leaving me in a random motel in sketchy area. As he left I heard him check the door behind him to make sure it locked and then there was just me again. I was apprehensive about being in Dodge City. I stared out my motel window and worked up the courage to walk to the Dairy Queen across the street. I felt exposed walking through the empty parking lot but hunger won out.

I walked 18 miles along the highway only stopping to pee. My right quad felt like it wanted to pull and my knee had a tweak in it. I made it into town before noon and ran errands: Doller General, Subway, Richie’s Cafe, Library, Post Office, and then the City Park. I tried finding wifi at the cafe but there was none so I sat in the air conditioned building and drank water. The waitress offered me fruit on the house and I wanted to leave a tip despite not getting anything. However, the woman refused. “But it is for you,” I said. She looked at me and said “Oh no, I can’t.” I felt a little defeated. I wanted to show my gratitude and didn’t know what else I could do. Next, I went to the library and there I found wifi. I wanted to work on my blog but I found myself unable to focus and tired. I sat in a chair for a while and tried to relax but I felt weird falling alseep with people around me. I decided I’d just go to the park and sit in the shade until nightfall. The temperature was going to be above 100°F but I figured I should try to acclimate in a controlled area (food, water, shade, people). However, I found myself harassed by flies and simply waiting. My only interaction was with an older couple that sat at a table across from me for a few minutes. But, they barely spoke english. Even so, I could see their kindness in their behavior and the few words they spoke to each other. When they left I looked at the route to Colorado, Utah, and Nevada and I didn’t know how I was going to do it. Anxiety rose within me. I was tired of walking highways. I was tired of having a limited window of time before the great plains turned into a furnace. I didn’t know what I was doing out there anymore. Why was I doing this? I was no longer the person I was when I started. Will these feelings disappear when I leave Kansas? I wasn’t sure. Then I dropped my bear spray on my toe. It filleted a chunk of skin off below my toe nail and I lost all composure. Tears rolled down my face and strange grieving noises exited me. I stared at my poor toe and watched the blood swell and then clot. At dusk I set up my tent under the pavillion and hid behind the picnic tables. I tried to hide in plain sight but failed when a kid went to throw away his trash. “Oh shit, there’s someone in there,” he exclaimed to his friend as he scurried away.

I woke up thirty minutes later than I would’ve liked and knew I’d be paying for it in the heat of the day. It got hot quick but I was thankful for the dirt under my feet. A guy, Tom, pulled over and talked to me a few minutes. He had walked the Santa Fe Trail as a history project and was excited to see someone else walking along it. He had gained a lot of spirituality and meditation time from the experience and I wanted to feel his enthusiasm for the plains but it didn’t come to me. He offered water and sunscreen before he continued his drive to his family reunion but I declined. I had a mile and a half left before my stopping point and despite feeling a tad over-heated and dry-mouthed I continued. I headed straight to the church but found a small playground/park area instead. There was water and shade so I decided that would be home for the evening. Across the street, a man sat in his yard under the shade of a tree. I went over to him to ask if it was alright to set my tent up at the park but I mostly wanted something to do and someone to talk to. He redirected me to the man with the answer, Vernal. I received vague directions to Vernal’s house and temporarily entertained the idea of finding him, again to have something to do, but I was tired of walking. So, I ended up hiding from the sun and wind by the volunteer fire department next to the park. I listened to a podcast, tried to sleep, killed flies, picked my scabs, and stared at the ground. My podcast told me that to have grit you have to have: interest, passion, purpose, and hope. How was I going to maintain grit when I was losing my purpose and hope? I had less than 100 miles to Colorado but would anything change? Later, while I made my “redneck MRE” a dog appeared from around the corner and was so excited it started knocking into everything. I thought a split second ahead and turned my stove off before he wiggled himself over my backpack and near my food. Out of the corner of my eye, I happened to see a rooster! The dog took off after it and they both promptly disappeared. After the few moments of excitement I continued making my food, which was not something I was excited about. It was beef stew potatoes that tasted mostly like salt and had zero texture. I unwillingly ate half of the bag and gave up on the rest. My morale sinking even lower. I needed to try to lift my spirits so I went over to the swing and tried to find the same bliss I did as a child. I posed the question to myself, “What makes swinging so much fun?” My only inclination was that it could make me feel like I was flying.

In the night, I was blessed by a white cat. As I slept I felt pressure on my head and saw a blob. I grabbed my glasses, strangely unalarmed, and saw the cat. It then reached up onto my tent and in fear of it creating a tear I said, “Back,” and it ran off. I was awoken by roosters in the light of day. I’d slept in because I only had 13 miles to walk but while I walked I sang and danced. I had a destination for the night, a homeless shelter called Emmaus House. I called and asked about the procedures for staying there. I’d have to go to the police station to get a background check but I needed to get to the house first to make lunch time. I knocked on the door and was greeted by a gentleman and two ladies. I had no idea what or where I was suppose to go inside the house. I wasn’t overwhelmed but rather uninformed. I couldn’t begin the entry process until I had the background check so I plopped my stuff pack in a corner, sat, and mimicked what the people around me were doing. I didn’t know who ran the place and who was staying there so I sat and waited for the food to be served. The gentleman, Chris, was sociable and I was able to talk with him about various adventures in New Mexico. The other guys were friendly but continued to watch TV. Lunch, three different types of beans and meat, was served and three guys came to sit at the table. Anyone could show up for the meals so now I was trying to figure out who was staying in the house. The guy on my left started to talk about hating to work and that he won’t work. I was a bit shocked at that mentality because I’m always doing something. I wanted to know more so I asked him what he liked to do. And his response was a vague, “Hangout.” The guy seemed like a nice enough guy but his body language shouted a complete lack of confidence. I could see he was one of the individuals that abused the welfare system. After I ate, I went to the police station to get the background check and while I waited I met two guys from Sudan that were reporting a lost wallet. They didn’t speak much english but I enjoyed the broken conversation. It made me realize how much I missed interacting with different cultures. When I got back to the shelter I went through the entry process and talked with the people that ran the house. They were lovely ladies but they shared that not everyone that stayed there was pleasant to interact with. In order to stay at the home you have to follow a select set of rules and each morning after breakfast you have to leave and apply for jobs. I felt out of place after I finished the entry process. Everyone was out applying for jobs and I wasn’t. I stayed in the women’s bunkroom until the evening grew nearer and then I emerged to find everyone gathering for dinner. People were joking with one another and a baby girl ran around. I began to feel comfortable and more like me. There was a couple with a dog outside, a couple that was there for dinner, a couple from San Antonio with their baby girl, and then Chris and me. It was this strange combination of people that turned into a makeshift family. No one was trying to impress one another and everyone just laughed. It gave me a strange sense of belonging.

I had very little sleep in the women’s bunkroom, which was in the basement. It was hot, stuffy, and the majority of the night it felt like things were crawling on me. Chris had wanted to walk with me so I waited for him before taking off. It was nice having someone to talk to while walking but it turned out I’m not a great multi-tasker. We’d be talking and I’d check the map only to realize we missed the turn. It definitely led to a couple extra miles. The roads going out of town barely had a shoulder which made walking along them difficult for one person let alone two. There was little wind and six miles in I already felt fatigued. This was most likely due to not eating breakfast. Chris and I hadn’t eaten because of our early start but we attempted to subside our hunger with granola bars. I knew too that Chris’s feet were hurting so before I even got into the next town, now two miles away, I’d decided I was done walking for the day. Once in town we went directly to the convenience store and got two corn dogs and waited for the nereby cafe, El Rancho, to open. There my anxiety level towards walking increased. I was having some sort of revelation but only in bits and pieces and I just became riddled with anxiety. “What if?” thoughts and uncertainty plagued me. Chris suggested we go to the park to figure things out and there we sat under the pavilion in the shade. I felt like I needed to make a rash decision but quitting wasn’t it. I needed to make a big decision but what? I was stuck with indecision while Chris waited patiently. I was stressing out and Chris started to feel the stress too. I decided I needed to make a few phone calls and with that it was decided that I needed a break. I quickly developed a plan: hitch back to Garden City with Chris and then find a way back to Texas. I figured walking with Chris had diverted my normal pattern of behavior of pushing through my anguish and continuing. That ended up being a good thing. I knew pushing through wasn’t working for me anymore and I needed a change, a big change. It was a wake up call for me. We found a ride back into Garden City at the gas station and were dropped off at the library. There, the third man that had eaten lunch with us the day before, George, came and sat at the table with me. I could only ever make out half of the sentences he said due to mumbling but I thoroughly enjoyed our conversations. I had asked him what he wanted to be when he was a kid and he said firefighter. Now, he was working at a Tyson food plant and I wondered what happened. “Life,” he said, “You start out wanting to do one thing and in the mean time you get distracted going in a different direction.” I realized how much of a luxory it was to work a job you’re passionate about. I found myself surrounded by people who were grateful to have a job regardless if they liked it or not. I wanted to ask George so many more questions but he had to leave for work. I sat there coloring a picture and rejoiced in the simplicity of the moment. Later, I found myself swimming laps at a hotel swimming pool and remembered how much I loved swimming underwater. The only problem was that with contacts I close my eyes underwater to keep them from popping out. So, I decided to take them out and swim in the depths of the pool, with my eyes open. I let the chlorinated water hit my eyes and a blurred peacefullness swept over me as my heart raced with the lack of oxygen. In those moments, I embraced my inner child. The following morning my mother drove eight hours to get me and take me back to Texas. Her love and dedication was impeccable and I don’t think I can ever thank her enough.