Overland Park to Osage City

After walking six miles down the trail with me, Dee said goodbye. It had been a wonderful experience to meet and walk with another strong-willed female in the hiking world and even better to have someone that could relate to the various adverse statements surrounding gender, age, and appearance. I was now off to meet my next host, Chris and his family. I abandoned the bike trail and moved to the streets to use the signs to navigate. My GPS was acting finicky and I had to rely on my own navigational skills to find my way through the city. I finished walking across a crosswalk and then heard, “Amanda!” I looked around trying to determine the origin of the voice. Up ahead on my right, I saw arms flailing out a car window and then, “It’s Chris and Shannon!” They veered into a parking lot and I threw my pack in the trunk and jumped in the car. They told me they were running late for their daughter’s 23rd birthday dinner and that I was welcome to join. After an entire day of eating granola bars, an actual meal sounded delightful so I went with the flow and met the family and friends. I’ve found the moments when I get to partake in family endeavors are the most rewarding. In those moments, I get to be a part of something bigger than myself. I get to see the love that radiates from the people around me.

After two days of rest, a season of Game of Thrones watched, and a new appreciation for mulberries, I continued on my journey. I knew I was going to have hurdles to overcome in Kansas but today I took my time as I walked. I encountered a mulberry tree and started plucking them away and popping them into my mouth. I scoured through the leaves finding the ripest ones while trying to avoid knocking others onto the ground. I felt a childlike bliss and in those moments I had no worries in the world. When I got into town I felt strangely drained. Although there was still plenty of shade, my body was in a bit of shock from the humid heat. Keke and her baby, Rex, would be hosting me for the night but they had a wedding to attend. In the mean time, I hung out at the Busker Festival in the downtown area. It still had a few acts going on and I got to witness the last show, Pogo Fred who does extreme pogo sticking and holds multiple world records. I enjoyed the performance but as I continued to wander around I began to feel overwhelmed. The noises, the people, and the unfamiliarity all over-loaded my senses. I needed to get away from it. I found my way to the park and laid in the shady grass and there I waited for Keke to come and get me.

I was dropped off at the edge of town after breakfast and began walking on the gridded black top and gravel roads. The shade was minimal and I traveled up and down the many hills of eastern Kansas. I’d pass puddles of water and it finally occurred to me that I should utilize them. Not to drink but to dampen my hat and buff, a versatile piece of cloth that you wear on your neck or head. The puddle was brown and filled with bacteria and fungus but I wasn’t focused on that. I saw it as an opportunity. I had been doing my best to keep up with my hydration but that was irrelevant in the humidity. I needed a way to cool my body down and this was the best solution I could think of without expending my drinkable water. As the sun continued to race across the sky, I finally decided that I needed to fuel my body with peanut butter and jelly wraps. I found shade under a tree next to the road and began to munch away when a truck pulled up next to me. I briefly told the guy about my walk but he didn’t seem to care. He was verbose and not much of a listener. I was automatically wary of him and it didn’t help that he was caught up on the fact that I was out there alone. He told me about the murder rates in Kansas City and how dangerous everything was but eventually he decided it was time for him to continue on his way. Before he left though, he tried to give me a miniature baseball bat and a knife but I made sure to tell him I already had what I needed.

I reviewed the ADT route and was quite disappointed with it. It was entirely highway walking and the only decent thing about that would be that people were constantly near me. But, that in itself was a double edged sword. I’d have to be aware of the cars zooming by and I wouldn’t be able to peacefully pee anywhere. In addition to that, there tend to be less shade along the highways and the continuous concrete walking quickly wears on my joints. With all of this in mind, I walked out of town. I happened to check my email after a few miles and I saw that the Kansas coordinator had responded to the email I’d sent him. He informed me that there was a rail trail, Flint Hills Nature Trail,  that I could jump on in Ottawa. “What?!” I thought to myself, “I walked right past it on my way out of town and didn’t even realize it.” There was no turning back for me so I decided I’d catch it in the next town. The problem was that it didn’t exist on Google Maps yet and the information surrounding it was sparse. I would have to blindly follow it until I got to the more established sections. A few hundred feet in front of me I found a gravel path that was encompassed by trees and bushes. It reminded me of the Katy Trail in Missouri so I assumed it was the Flint Hills Nature Trail. There was no signage but I decided to follow it anyways. I could keep tabs on where I was via Google Maps and hoped that eventually I’d find a sign telling me what I was following. The shade was heavenly and I found more mulberry trees. The crushed gravel beneath me softened the impact on my knees and hips as I walked. Tired, hungry, and almost out of water I finally made it to the Vassar State Park Campground. The clouds above me looked like cotton candy but to the left it was a dark abyss. Rain sprinkled down while the sun shined bright in the sky. I hid in my tent waiting for the angry sky to bear a tornado. The winds blew at my tent with no mercy and I realized that my tent was only a curtain of comfort. It would do nothing to protect me from a storm. There was a bathroom shelter I could go to if I needed but that wasn’t much comfort to me. “What is this weather?” I thought. Thunder rumbled around me and I waited for the lightning. But I never saw it. At this point, I whole heartedly believed everything in Kansas was trying to kill me and this wasn’t even an actual storm.

After surviving the night, I made it to my next town in a hurry. There was going to be a care package waiting for me from a lovely trail angel, Dawn, that I was excited about but what really had me moving was a black wall in the sky. As I got to the outskirts of town, people told me there was golf ball sized hail coming and that I should find shelter. I pushed myself to get to the library before the storm hit. There I could rest, rehydrate, and pick up my care package. I sat in a chair in the corner, away from everyone, to spare them of my wild stench. I tried to make a logistical plan for my next move but quickly was becoming overwhelmed. I convinced myself I couldn’t stay in the town and opted to do nine more miles to the next town (the storm had passed). I walked up to the librarian to ask her a question before I left and she asked what I was doing. I was confused. I thought the librarian I’d spoken with earlier had told her. Through our conversation I ended up asking if there was anywhere I could set up my tent for the night and she began making phone calls to the various churches in the area. Turns out her mother, Donna, was able to get me set up in the apartment her church has for missionaries. Before I made my way there, Donna took me to eat at the local cafe and then to church with her. She had the happiest smile I’d ever seen. As the evening wore on I settled in the apartment and I had some over hanging thoughts: 1) There is no mold that fits every situation perfectly. This includes relationships, lifestyle, appearance, etc. The world is incredibly diverse and that staying open minded is key. 2) Don’t do things out of fear 3) Everything in Kansas was trying to kill me- tornadoes, lightning, hail, dehydration, heat stroke, bugs, etc.

Waverly to Kansas City

All I saw was a flat, colorless landscape with trees and hills off in the distance. “This is what the entire state of Kansas is going to be like,” I thought to myself. Strangely enough, I was okay with that. The gravel roads that I traversed were easy on my joints and I could walk in the middle of the road without fear of trucks zooming by. If they were coming, a large dust cloud would alert me of their presence. I found contentment in the isolation and wandering thoughts that circled my head. A house was up on my left and I knocked on the door to ask for water. There was no answer but I helped myself to the spigot on the side of the house. A puppy barked and ran under a shed, watching me from a distance. “Hello?” I called out. No one replied so I quickly refilled my water containers and continued on my way. The ADT route brought me to a green lawn with a man mowing on a riding lawn mower and a giant hill climb. As I approached the man I waved and although he waved back I couldn’t tell if he was continuing to mow in my direction or intentionally mowing towards me. What’s the difference? If he wanted to talk to me he was mowing towards me and if he was mowing in my direction then I knew he would awkwardly avoid my eye contact. Thankfully he was curious and walked to talk to me. I explained my journey and the American Discovery Trail and he told me he was surprised he’d never heard about it because he’s a paddler. A paddler?? He explained to me that there are river angels, like trail angels, and he helps people traveling on the Source to Sea, Montana to the Gulf of Mexico- the 4th longest waterway system in the world. My mind was blown! It made sense that there would be a huge community surrounding the water systems but I’d never been introduced to such a concept! He asked me if I needed anything (food, water, etc.) but I didn’t. After all, I was heading into town to resupply. I was about to be on my way when I thought a WiFi break sounded nice. What started out as sitting in the shade on the porch turned into a tour of the nearby town, the Missouri River, and the farmland Robin’s family owned. I didn’t plan on staying there the entire evening but as the hours passed I found myself enjoying the company of Robin and his wife. As the sun entered the western part of the sky, we all knew that I was going stay the night. After all, I was now family.

Why I walk: The reason as a whole of “why” I’m walking is personal growth, adventure, and human connection, just to name a few. However, I’ve concluded that the daily reasons I walk are different and distinguishable. At this point, over four months in, it is the only reliable thing I can count on. I wake up and I walk. I walk because I have no where to go. I walk because the unknown of stopping is much greater than that of continuing on. In a lot of ways, walking has become an identity and when I’m not doing it I have no purpose. I walk in hope of better weather. I walk because I know I’m not always welcome where I’m at. So, I continue to walk and hope that I will end up where I need to be.

I walked along a highway most of the day and the concrete made my body ache. Thunderstorms were all around me but I was able to walk in my own oasis of sunshine. I’d look up at the sky and see pockets of grey masses of clouds and rain underneath them. Was the wind blowing them in my direction? A red truck pulled up beside me and the man asked me a few questions about my journey before asking if I took rides. I was happy to converse with him but it wasn’t ideal to be doing it in the middle of the road so the truck drove further down and pulled into a driveway and waited for me. Susie and Steve jumped out of their vehicle to talk to me and I replied to their ,”Do I take rides?” question with, “Sometimes, but I have no where to go.” I knew I was headed into town but other than that I didn’t know where I was going to spend the night. They told me they had a nice camping spot and could bring me back to where I left off the following morning. A city utility worker happened to be parked in the same vicinity as all of us and Steve told him everyone’s name and what county they lived in. The utility worker didn’t realize it but he was going to be the witness if anything happened to me or Steve and Susie. It was evident to me here how Steve and Susie were taking precautionary measures for themselves as well as for me. It was a good reminder that when people help me it is an act of trust in both directions. They don’t know me and I don’t know them. I agreed to go with them and then I saw there were two more people in the back of the truck, their sons. I chuckled a little to myself because I couldn’t see their faces. They each had hydrangeas on their lap and their faces were buried in the plants. Whenever they asked me a question it was a voice coming out of the leaves. We drove to the other side of the Missouri River and into the storm. Rain began to pound on the truck and the windshield wipers struggled to keep up with the amount of rain. We got to an empty property filled with shipping containers and work in progress landscaping projects. There was one large shelter, a giant metal garage, and we all hurried inside to escape the downpour. Inside, several vehicles were torn apart, unfinished projects, and then there was a plastic table. I was confused. Where did they live? There was no electricity or plumbing here. Were they planning on leaving me here? I quickly was becoming overwhelmed by the massive amount of noise from the storm and the uncertainty of where I was. They explained to me that their sons lived in one of the neighboring towns and they lived a few towns over. Due to the weather, they were determining where would be best for me to stay. They told me their home was a mess but I assured them I didn’t mind. On the way to their home, Steve told me that if I felt uncomfortable they would get me a hotel room and they wanted this to be a positive experience. When we pulled into the driveway there were more unfinished projects surrounding the yard. I still didn’t know what to expect when I entered the home. Why did they keep insisting that their home was such a mess? Everyone tells me that. As they unlocked the door I saw exactly what they had been telling me. There was a single walkway throughout the house and clothes, magazines, and other knick knacks were in piles everywhere. I followed the path to the empty couch and tried to process the mess before me. I was overwhelmed and began to have a sick feeling in my stomach. While Steve and Susie went on a binge cleaning spree I thought about their hotel offer. I did my best to think about the situation logically. I knew that I was hungry and that was part of the reason I felt unwell and then I remembered that part of my journey is learning about people and their lives. It would be unfair to remove myself from this situation because it wasn’t what I expected. I could tell Steve and Susie were nice people and they were incredibly excited to help me. I decided I needed to stay and I changed my mindset about the situation. After my initial shock wore off, Steve and Susie took me out to eat at a Mexican restaurant and with a full belly life began to fill me again. There they told me one of the reasons they had stopped to talk to me was because when they passed me the first time I smiled and waved at them (I try to wave to most of the cars to pass me). I’m glad I was able to work through my initial shock towards Steve and Susie’s living situation because I ended up having a wonderful time getting to know them!

I was dropped off at the civil war battle ground in Lexington in the drizzling weather. It was such a strange feeling to be walking on a lush, green field where I knew hundreds of people had died. Despite this, I couldn’t help but think how cool of a camping spot it would’ve been if Susie and Steve hadn’t of picked me up the night before. One of the things that I have started to realize through all the historical places I’ve travelled through is that the reasons in each state  and town for fighting in the civil war were different. It was not a cut and dry slavery or no slavery issue. From what I learned at Lexington, it sounded like Missouri was tired of government control and that was the main reason the Missouri militia fought against the Union soldiers. Yes, it is all tied together but the way I learned about it in school made the reasons for fighting sound simple. I walked through the dreary weather and endured the rain. However, I wasn’t miserable. The rain brought a liveliness to me and I started to sing or rather make loud noises along the side of the road. At the last minute I decided to cut out the extra 20 mile loop the ADT took me on and settled on walking the highway the rest of the way to Kansas City. With this, I ended up at the Fort Osage Fire Department and rung the door bell. I had called the police and they unfortunately weren’t much help but the fire department was directly in front of me. They didn’t know where I could go but there was a piece of property next to them they said I could camp on. I was delighted to have a field to set up on but when I went inside to get water it was decided that I could stay in one of their extra bunks! I was introduced to the staff on shift and told that I could eat dinner with them too. Chicken pot pie was on the menu. Yummy! There was only one female staff on shift and it seemed she was given the responsibility to show me the ropes of the station. Everyone was incredibly nice but it appeared that I was at a loss for words. My shyness shined bright and I mostly only spoke when spoken to. However, everyone was engaging and I was delighted to tell them about my walk when they had specific questions. It was amazing to see how much of a family they all were. They end up spending more time at the fire station than they do at home. Cheyenne, the only female on shift, did an amazing job of checking up on me and making sure I had everything I needed. I was told that 6:30am was wake up for the shift change and that it was a possibility that the fire alarm could go off in the middle of the night. The night ended up being restful and alarmless but at 6:30am the lights flicked on and it was time to start another day.

I was on my way into Independence, one of the suburbs of Kansas City, and was told I was pushing it going that far into the city. I didn’t know exactly what I was heading into but I was sticking to the highway and had a host lined up to get me and drive me through the sketchier areas. As I walked out of town a group of older men called out to me. It was a group of veterans that were drinking their morning coffee outside a barber shop and they wanted to know what this crazy lady was doing. They heard my story and were acting like teenage boys joking and poking fun at one another. It sounded like they’d all grown up together and still helped get each other into small town mischief. They were a hoot to talk to and instantly my morning was wonderful! As I drew nearer my destination, my excitement level increased! My feet were soggy from the rain and wet grass but my spirit was not dampened. Right outside of Independence a guy called out to me as I exited a QuikTrip. He was excited to see an adventurer in the middle of the city. He told me he’d hitchhiked all over the country and followed the Grateful Dead on tour. He gave me insight on the Dead Kids, people that follow the Grateful Dead, in San Fransisco and Boulder and how to get help from them if I needed it. As I continued I simply laughed with joy. The Grateful Dead community has continuously been mentioned to me throughout my journey and the idea of reaching San Fransisco and finding them was amazing. It appeared I’d been following the bread crumbs of the legacy of the Grateful Dead. I reached the Truman Museum and explored the history of him, his family, and his presidency and then my host for the night, Dee, came to get me. Dee found out about me in two unexpected ways. First, she met Steve, friend biking across country, at a park and she had to find out what his adventure was and once he heard that she had hiked the Appalachian Trail he told her about mine. Dee then messaged me on my website and saw a post made by her friend Robin, the paddler that hosted me a few days before, about me. What an incredibly small world! Dee and her husband gave me a tour of Kansas City and showed me the amazing overlooks and World War I museum. What amazing people they are!

Boonville to Malta Bend

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elizabethtown to Hanover

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

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

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

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

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




Jessup to Elizabethtown

After making a decision to walk backroads instead of the busy highway, I ended up 21 miles down the road knocking on the door of a trailer house. I saw a picnic table out front and figured it’d be a nice place to eat if I could set my tent up in the yard. The temperature was going to drop below twenty degrees and I knew I was going to have to deal with it. A woman with a radiant glow about her opened the door. She wanted to help me but it was her step-father’s home. She disappeared for a second and then came back with a man, her step-father. In the midst of telling me I could stay on the lawn, he offered the opportunity to stay in the guest room, inside where it was warm. Relief flooded over me. I walked in the door and the woman, Brandi, explained the plan for the evening. It was her and her step-father’s Friday night hangout and I was welcome to be there. They both shared their personal stories with me and I wondered why they opened up to a stranger. I wondered what my purpose was in meeting them and finally I came to a conclusion. I was there to listen. The step-father, Barry, told me to make myself at home and I knew he meant it. I offered to share homemade bologna and cheese that an amish family gave me but they didn’t want to take anything from my limited food supply. Instead, they told me to eat whatever was in the fridge and that later there would be pizza. I’m not sure if this is more of a reflection on me or the genuine welcome Brandi and Barry gave me but I went ahead and rummaged through the fridge and made myself a sandwich. I had just met these people but they didn’t feel like strangers. As always, the subject of safety popped into the conversation. Barry told me that he was glad I didn’t end up at any of the houses in town because some of the guys wouldn’t have hesitated to jump on me in the middle of the night. Although I appreciated his honesty and warning, it planted an unsettling seed in my mind. The seed of doubt. The seed of worry. The seed of fear. I knew I’d have a restless night.

A seventeen mile day with six miles of highway walking was mindless. The highway was well shouldered but the area around me was exposed and surrounded by chain link fences, I was pinned in. After the first mile, I developed the sensation that I had to pee. However, my options were limited. I could A) pee on the side of the highway and hope no one called the cops or B) keep trying to hold it and possibly pee myself. The distance to the next bathroom was about 5 miles, meaning roughly two hours via walking. I held my bladder and continuesly scanned the horizon for the sweet, golden arches of a McDonald’s. I was battling with the needs of my body. I needed to keep walking because I had to pee but my knees felt as if they’d give out (hours of walking with asphalt below my feet was taking its toll). My stomach tore at my insides, trying to find a source of energy. I had eaten my last granola bar. However, I kept going and I made it to the McDonald’s. I ignored the stares people gave me and went to relieve myself. What a glorious feeling. Next, I stood in front of the overstimulating menu screen. I needed food but just when I thought I knew what I wanted the screen changed and I became distracted by other menu items. After all was said and done, I ended up with 2 McChickens, 2 cheeseburgers, 2 McMuffins, 2 cookies, and an M&M mcflurry. I ate everything except a cheeseburger and McMuffin. I told myself that would be dinner as I walked to a nearby hotel. It was time to rest.

The hotel’s complimentary breakfast talk surrounded me and my walk. The daughter of the guy at the front desk was fascinated by what I was doing. She was middle school aged and asked me a wider variety of questions than the normal ones. It was refreshing. I was able to think critically instead of tapping into my rehearsed answers. She then began asking me about other subjects like college. This was one of the moments where I remembered the grand opportunity of inspiration my walk had allowed me. I realized that I was acting as a role-model and I wanted to be a good one, if only for a few minutes. A man and a woman sat at the table next to me and they had their own questions. The man was baffled at what I was doing. His facial expressions told me he was struggling to wrap his mind around what I was doing. The world he knew was not suitable for walking. He briefly shared with me a story of his: a coworker took him home to West Virginia to meet the family. The whole family was in an excited ruckus to have a black man in the house and the coworker told him that he wasn’t taught to hate black people but that none of them were worth getting to know. That was why it was such a big deal. The coworker decided that the man in front of me was worth getting to know. Now, the story occurred quite a few years back but I found that thought process intriguing and it allowed me to grasp another viewpoint on the world. My time came to leave the hotel and I neared Cincinnati. Approaching the big city was filling me with anxiety especially because people told me that I’d have to walk through the middle of the rough patches except they didn’t word it so gracefully. I walked through one of the suburbs and a guy pulled over next to me. He was around the same age as me and he told me that he just had to know what I was doing! He had just finished hiking The Camino in Spain and was intrigued to see a backpacker in the middle of the city. His excitement was contagious and I felt my energy level grow. Before he left he prayed for me and that was a happy reminder that I wasn’t alone. I kept walking until it started to snow. I sheltered in a nearby Inn where I roamed around in the medieval style waiting rooms. Thankfully, I had a host lined up for the night. Nikki, a friend of Devon’s, was on her way to get me. She took me home with her and introduced me to her son and husband. I loved witnessing the playful and loving family dynamics of their household.

Before Nikki dropped me off in Kentucky, she drove me through the sketchy parts of Cincinnati but along the way we stopped at an REI (outdoor equipment store) and Whole Foods. These both were familiar stores to me, ones that I visited frequently before I started my walk. It set me off into a spiral of confusion. These places were from another lifetime. Questions regarding my identity started to flow through my mind. Who am I? Who was I? Who am I going to be? My anxiety level sky-rocketed. I was dropped off in a park where the ADT travels through and there I met Janice. She had wanted to meet and interview me. I was obliged to answer her questions and to also hear her story. After the interview, she drove me down to Anderson Ferry so that I could cross back into Ohio. When we got to the ferry neither one of us knew exactly how it worked so we kept asking the only other pedestrian going across. Now having a clue but not really knowing what I was doing, I said goodbye to Janice and observed and copied the man’s actions. I followed him onto the ferry, waited next to him, and exited the same way he did. I was his shadow. I’m sure he was wondering what my deal was but he never said a word. As soon as I was off the ferry, I took off on my route. The area I was now in was still a bit concerning but not nearly as rough as some of the other areas. I walked and tried to find a spot to settle down for the night. I found an old foundation to a house and wrestled my way through the vines to get to the clearing. I thought it was perfect until I looked up and saw a man and his son walking in the woods. Not as peaceful as I’d thought so I kept going. I decided to call Nikki to see if she could come pick me up. We had already said our goodbyes and I felt like the effort to come get me would be a hassle. I didn’t feel comfortable in the area though and it was going to be another cold night. So, her and her family came to get me and along the way Nikki’s husband made sure we stopped to get Skyline chili, the food dish Cincinnati is known for. It was delicious. The only odd thing was the chili consisted of spaghetti noodles. Apparently, spaghetti noodles were cheaper and fed more family members back in the day rather than the traditional chili beans.

The next morning Nikki’s husband dropped me off in Elizabethtown. It was time to decide between the Northern and Southern route of the ADT and I already knew I was going south.

Vigo to Jessup

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

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

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

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

Belpre to Old Man’s Cave

My first day in Ohio was filled with massive clouds in the sky accompanied by a chilly wind. My feet were experiencing strange sensations from my new shoes. After walking only three miles I’d have to stop and rest. My toes on my right foot were experiencing a burning, tingling numbness and occasionally would send pain up the side of my leg. The only thing I could think of that would be causing that would be my feet adjusting to the new shoes. I took frequent rests and allowed myself to take my time. My first interaction with anyone was with two guys in a truck. As they drove by they slowed and asked if I was “hiking that trail?” and proceeded to offer me pizza. Pizza sounded pretty darn good so I said “Yea!” They pulled over on the side of the street and as I approached the truck I see pizza crust flinging out the window. “Uh, is this some kind of sick joke?” I thought. Thankfully it wasn’t and when I neared the window I saw a pizza box filled with four greasy pepperoni slices. I took one and started eating it. Between telling them my story and my hands being numbed by the cold wind, the pizza disappeared slowly. They told me I could have the rest of it and although I didn’t want to take all their pizza they told me they were just going to throw it away. I couldn’t have that. We came up with the innovative pizza sandwich to make my eating more efficient and they kindly waited on the side of the road with me. They didn’t want me to look strange eating and walking with a box of pizza. The funny part was while they sat, parked, on the side of the road people kept stopping to ask if they were okay or if they needed any help, including a police officer. On the other hand, these very same people disregarded me as I walked along the road.

The man that let me camp in his yard came out to check that I survived the below freezing night. He brought me hot tea and sat with me in the frigid weather while I finished my breakfast, my concoction of oatmeal. He saw me putting away my uncleaned pot and offered to wash it WITH soap. Then, he asked if I wanted to come inside to warm up next to his wood burning stove. Heck yea! So, instead of taking off and walking immediately, I talked with him and learned about his life. He did warn me about the coming area. “I’m not racist but it has a high mulatto population.” I’d never heard anyone use the term “mulatto” before but I could guess. I appreciated his warning and concern but I now held a preconceived idea of the area and was a bit nervous. Once the weather slightly warmed, I was off walking again. I had the same problem with my feet as I did the day before but this time I thought outside the box. I removed the insoles in both shoes and felt instant relief. To my understanding, the insoles may have been troubling my already high arches or taking up too much room in the shoe. Either way, I was grateful for the relief. As the day went by, I started up a hill a few miles outside the town I was warned about, Chesterhill, and saw a truck sitting at the top of the hill with a man in it. As I’m about halfway up the hill, the truck started down the hill and the man waves rather excitedly to me as he passes. I did my normal friendly wave back and about a minute later the truck reversed to talk to me. “You’re cute, what are you doing?” Between his strange driving, my warning about mulattoes, and the first words that came out of his mouth, I was annoyed and defensive. “I know you have a man, where he at?” he asked with a wink. I agreed with him and told him, “He’s around,” as I waited for the first break in questions. As soon as it came, I told him to “Have a good day,” and started walking before he could respond. I needed to find a place to sleep for the night but I was hesitant to knock on anyone’s door. Instead, I found a wooded area hidden from the road. As I sat in the woods, watching the woods and surveying the environment around me, I saw a herd of deer. I watched them graze peacefully until I heard a hunter’s deer call across the woods. Suddenly, I was filled with more unsettling thoughts. “Am I in the crossfire?” “Am I going to see a deer shot in front of me?” “What if the hunters discover I’m here alone?” The fear of getting shot outweighed the fear of being discovered so I set up my tent with the bright yellow rain tarp. The deer disappeared and I made dinner while the deer call continued into the night.

I got an early start to the day because I had to make it to the post office in town to pick up a gear package and then have enough time to mail a package out. It was dreary and rainy so I skipped breakfast and snacked on a granola bar. When I neared town, I met a woman, Krystal, on her morning walk. We talked a bit before she offered to walk back into town with me and show me where the post office and her house were. She wanted me to join her family for breakfast. I informed her that I would love to but I needed to pick up my package first. I thought about the mystery of chance as I picked up my package. On the one day I skipped breakfast, I met a woman who wanted to make breakfast for me in a town I was warned about (once I got into town the “mulatto” population was nonexistent). After I got my package, I met Krystal’s husband and her two little boys at their home. When breakfast was finished they were kind enough to offer me a place to stay for the night. The rain continued and appeared to make no effort to stop so I accepted their offer. I got the opportunity to learn about the Mennonite faith and to talk about my own faith in God. This was the first time I confidently told someone that I believed in God. In the evening, I went with Krystal and her family to an Amish farm to get eggs. I was excited to see an Amish farm and then to actually talk with them. They too were eager to learn about my walk across the country and before I left they gave me cookies for the road. I wondered though, how would they view one of their own daughters doing the same journey and would they be supportive?

Why do we do the things we do? I left Krystal and her family to walk in the rain. They had offered me to stay another night but I felt compelled to make progress despite the stormy weather. All was well until I noticed my phone stopped working. The screen had gotten damp in one of my saturated pockets and the screen consistently went blank. I sat down on the side of the road and looked at my trail directions, I’d missed a turn. Should I keep going straight or backtrack? I was now operating blind. In an effort to find shelter and resuscitate my phone, I backtracked to the nearest house which happened to have a cabin to rent out. I rented the cabin for a night and became panicked when I realized the severe consequences of my phone being out of commission. Should I get a ride into town? Where was the nearest cell phone repair store? Do I backtrack or go forward? If my phone didn’t revive itself, it was a game changer. The cabin I rented was cozy and heated yet lacked electricity. As night fell and the thunderstorm began, I sat in the darkness wondering “Why?” I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why I left a loving family and ventured into the rain. I didn’t understand why my phone got damaged. I was afraid of losing communication with the outside world and I feared being alone. So, I sat in the darkness and asked, sobbing, “What am I suppose to do?” Suddenly, I had no direction.

After sheltering for a day and having my phone dry out, I started walking again. I had to walk the trails through the Burr Oak’s State Park and I worried about flooding. I approached one of the dirt trails and stared at the river of water. Was that the trail or a stream? I scoured the trees looking for the blue blazes that marked my path. Yep, they led me directly into the water. My determined spirit maneuvered carefully in the mud around the stream. I hoped the trail would gain elevation and escape from the water. I aimed for tiny patches of grass, trying to find solid ground beneath me, but only found quicksand-like mud. Twenty feet in on the “trail” and I saw the overflown river on my left and a newly formed marsh in front of me. My feet were soaked from unsuccessful attempts to continue. I knew my approach wasn’t going to work so I turned back. I had to reroute. Ironically, by rerouting, I decreased my mileage to my given destination, Murray City. The gravel roads resembled giant mud pits and I fought my way to dry ground. As I fought my way uphill a strange sunny, above freezing snow flurry started. I didn’t know what to think of the weather but continued to fight my way to Murray City. Once there, the general store I’d been hoping to resupply in was nonexistent so I meandered into the post office to find warmth. As I stood there, a man came in to mail a letter and I asked him if there was anywhere I could set my tent up. He didn’t hesitate to offer his lawn but I wanted to try to find warm shelter. The temperature was going to drop into the teens and I had no business sleeping outside with a twenty degree sleeping bag. I walked across the street to an American Legion. It was getting dark so when I gained permission to set up my tent on their property I did so quickly and then sheltered inside the building for warmth. I ate three sloppy joes and a chicken salad sandwich with french fries. While there, I talked with the locals and shared my story while listening to theirs. Everyone wanted to help me but most everyone disapproved of the journey. Eventually, a woman, Cheryl, offered me her couch. I was incredibly grateful and rushed outside to pack my tent up, now covered in snow.

Before I left Cheryl’s, I weighed my new pack for the first time: 35lbs! I decided to walk directly to Logan instead of taking three days to get there, thus going further rogue on the ADT in Ohio. Half way through the day, I found out that two people, Jamie and Jenny, I met in Texas at an REI Garage Sale (outdoor store having an awesome sale on used products) lived near Logan and would be able to pick me up that night! Talk about a small world! When I finally had wifi, I saw a facebook post from a woman saying that she was going to greet me with hot chocolate and blue berry muffins that morning but saw my tent was gone. It broke my heart reading that. I love meeting people and learning about their life and I felt she was robbed of that due to a miscommunication. I wasn’t gone, I had just been moved to the warmth of a couch. When I got into Logan, I plopped onto a picnic table, feet swollen, and waited for Jamie to pick me up. I was welcomed with such warmth and excitement! When we got back to her place I decided to take a full fledged bath. It must’ve been years since I prepared bath water for myself, my go-to is a shower, and I went all out and dumped epsom salt in there too. My body hurt. I breathed deeply as the warm water encompassed my body and I just laid there. I stared at the tiles on the bathroom wall and allowed my body to relax. The warm water was welcomed after a day of being exposed to the cold yet breathing in the warm air was creating a sense of anxiety. It felt heavy to breath so after a short while I exited and exposed my body once again to the cool air. I put on sweats that Jamie let me borrow and for the first time in a while, I felt like a normal person.

The forecasted weather was a beautiful, sunny day amidst a week of rain. I decided to take advantage of the day by having Jamie drop me off and hike with me through Hocking Hills State Park. She would hike with me to see “Old Man’s Cave” but before that we both had to pee. I was excited to have a state park public bathroom to use but when I walked into the door it was locked. I was disappointed but I still had to pee. I decided that I’d go next to the trail but had to try my luck at finding a time window where other people wouldn’t discover me. Finally my window came and when I returned to where Jamie was we both watched a man walk out of the women’s bathroom. We stared at each other and she started cracking up, “I bet it is unlocked now, they must’ve just finished cleaning it.” She giggled and ran to try the now unlocked door and laughed at me as she went to relieve herself . My pee luck is terrible. Now, with bladders empty, followed the trail to Old Man’s Cave. Icicles hung from the ledges above and rock cliffs surrounded us. This was what my soul needed. I couldn’t help but see potential climbing routes along the cliffs as we followed the trail. Some how we went from one trail head to another without seeing Old Man’s Cave. That was until we realized we were already there. Jamie’s quote of the day was “Sometimes the destination is within the journey.” It was time for Jamie to leave me in the middle of the woods. It was amazing spending time with her and Jenny because their enthusiasm for life was contagious and I now was able to take some of that enthusiasm with me. I went on to visit Ash Cave where I met a woman from Switzerland hiking barefoot! I had to start talking to her! I love the idea of hiking barefoot and was even more amazed that she was doing it in cold, slushy weather. Her feet were red from blood flow and they maintained a temperature homeostasis. I was baffled because I didn’t think my feet would ever be able to sustain themselves in the cold weather. She had finished the St. James Pilgrimage in France and does ultralight backpacking trips regularly. In fact, she had heard about the American Discovery Trail for the first time the day before and proceeded to tell me that meeting me was the highlight of her hike for the day! The encounter was heart-warming and motivating. Soon, very soon, maybe I’ll be a barefoot hiker.

Sun Valley to Parkersburg

Seventy miles on the North Bend Rail Trail were ahead of me. It was the last stretch before I would cross into Ohio on the Parkersburg-Belpre bridge. I hoped the rail trail would be more stimulating than the monotony I experienced on the tow path in Maryland. I had been in contact with the West Virginia coordinator, Sharon, and she told me she could host me for the night. I just had to get there. The trail passed through old tunnels that eerily made the hair rise on the back of my neck. As I appoached the tunnel, I could see the light from the other end shine into the darkness. My curiosity got the best of me and I wandered into the darkness without a light. I knew my visibility would decrease as I got further into the tunnel but I wanted to experience the sensation for myself. I attempted to avoid the puddles but inherently, I found them. As it got darker, my senses began to disassociate. I could hear my feet crushing the dirt below me with each step but my eyes told me that I wasn’t making any progress. The darkness gave me a strange floating sensation. Eventually I emerged into the warmer temperatures and began walking into one of the small towns along the trail. I checked my mileage. Six more miles until I’d reach the spot where Sharon could pick me up. I updated her on my progress while I had cell service and kept pushing forward. I was walking with purpose and eager to be on time to meet her. Along the way a trail angel, Greg, stopped and talked to me as I walked past his house. I enjoyed hearing a little bit about his story and meeting his fluffy, orange cat but I soon realized that I’d be late meeting Sharon. In an effort make up time, I was power walking down the trail. The trekking poles moved swiftly next to me, my feet pushed off from the dirt below, and sweat dripped down my face. I was moving with such intensity driven focus that I didn’t notice when Sharon bypassed some of the trail to get me. She yelled my name from the road but between the wind and my focused mind it was hopeless. I kept trucking along and moved past her. I finally made it to the meet point and apologized for being late but she was still laughing about trying to get my attention further back. My feet were achy and my body sore so I was overjoyed to have a place to rest and to add icing to the cake, Sharon offered me the opportunity to slack pack the following day.

Cereal was on the menu for breakfast and Sharon was apologetic about it. However, each bite of the crunchy granola clusters and fresh cut strawberries intrigued my taste buds. I hadn’t had cereal in months and the simple familiarity and the delicious crunchy texture were everything I needed but didn’t know I was missing. I had a twenty mile day ahead of me and energy was surging through me. It was a chilly morning and I felt like running. No pack and Julie’s light weight shoes on my feet, I wouldn’t have another opportunity to comfortably run for a while. I took off at a slow jog that progressively got faster as I warmed up. My pace had gone from 3mph to 5mph and I could feel the blood pumping through my body. Soon, it would be too warm to run and my energy reserves wouldn’t be sufficient but for now everything was glorious! Near the old train depot in Pennsboro a man asked how far I was going. I didn’t have my pack with me so I knew it would sound odd to say I was walking across the country. Instead, I opened with “Well, it’s complicated.” I explained slack packing and why I didn’t have my pack and then the guy asks me if he can take a picture with me. I was surprised but honored. It was the first time a random person asked to take a picture with me. After completing the twenty miles for the day, Sharon picked me up. I always offer to help with cooking and cleaning to show my gratitude to the host but sometimes I need a little direction. Sharon told me I could mix the beans. I thought “mix the beans, easy enough.” She brought out brown sugar, maple syrup, onion, and peppers. The first task was to open the can of beans. She handed me a fancy can opener that creates cut-free edges and I starts going at it. “Then just squeeze it.” she directed me. I looked at the can of beans and saw how squeezing the can would allow the lid to pop off. Before Sharon could see what I was doing, I squeezed the can and the lid went flying into the air while flinging beans all over my arm. Sharon and I just started laughing. She did however take a mental note that I needed specific instructions moving forward.

Before my time with Sharon had ended I shared my notes with her on recommended trail improvements and she helped me find the closest shoe store ahead of me. Although the temporary shoes Julie had given me were great, I traded Sharon for a pair that had shoe laces. After I got off the rail trail I would have to road walk again and that meant slipping into ditches to avoid traffic. Julie’s shoes just wouldn’t stay on my feet on that terrain. So, the legacy of the sisterhood of the traveling shoes continued and Sharon would be taking them with her to Lake Tahoe! I said my goodbyes and then started down the trail only, I felt lethargic. Three and a half miles into walking, I decided to set up my tent. I felt like I was disappointing myself and others but then I decided to throw those expectations to the wind. This was going to be the day that I learned how to accept myself despite not meeting my expectations for myself. I didn’t know what was worse though, not living up to my own expectations or failing the expectations I perceived others to have.

The next town I went into was Cairo, pronounced “Care-o.” The original state coordinators for West Virginia had a shop there so I stopped inside, said hello, and signed their guest book. As I kept walking down the street, a man named Paul, store owner, started talking to me and introducing me to the other townfolk. His energy was contagious. Next door, the post office gave me a post marked envelope to mail them once I got to California. I realized then that not only was I going to have a family across the country but also penpals! I am definitely a believer in the magic of snail mail! One of the postmen was kind enough to buy me breakfast at the town diner and I endulged in an omelet and chocolate milk. As I ate, I thought about the mysteries of perfect timing. If I had kept walking the evening before, I would be having a very different experience. That, and then the magic of literally walking in other people’s shoes.

I finally would be walking into Parkersburg, the last town before I would walk into Ohio. I had a list of errands I needed to do but I didn’t know how to accomplish them all walking. Everything seemed so far apart and I was becoming overwhelmed thinking about it. It was a beautiful, sunny day but that actually created a few problems for me. The odd, 75°F weather was causing me to overheat in the clothes that I had, and I ran out of water four miles before I would be able to get into town. I eventually found a cafe/family restaurant and walked in there to cool down and refill my water. The stares started immediately as I walked in but I ignored them as I sat down at a table away from everyone else. I felt obligated to buy something if I was going to sit down so I ordered a scoop of moose tracks ice cream. I sat there searching on my Google maps, growing in frustration, and feeling more and more paralyzed. What to do? Where to go? A man, maybe the owner, walked into the room spraying air freshener and asked me, “Sweety, how long were you planning on staying because you’re stinking up the place.” I was caught off guard. I couldn’t smell myself. He proceeded to tell me that “it wasn’t my fault” and that I should “find someone to let me shower.” I clearly wasn’t wanted there so I left but that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had made it through the entire state of West Virginia without crying and on my last day in the state, I broke down. Tears began to pour from my eyes as I walked along the highway. I didn’t really know where I was going but at least I was finally moving. The tears blurred my vision as I avoided the cars. I wondered if the passing cars could tell I was upset and if so, did they care? For the first time walking, I felt shame. I finally made the decision to get groceries at the Dollar General. As I walked into the store I had to numb myself from the stares and lack of acceptance. I had the trifecta of things people want to avoid: smelling, crying, and strange. Then again, maybe people weren’t treating me any different in the store and I just noticed it more because I was in a fragile state of mind. The next on my errand list were shoes. I had to walk 40 minutes to get to the nearest shoe store, “On the Run and Walk,” and on my way I passed a high school that was letting out for the day. It seemed like these teenagers were completely dumbfounded on how to react to me. I could feel their discomfort as they walked past me unwilling to acknowledge me. On the other spectrum, some of them held an unwavering stare even as I matched their eye contact. I was an anomaly. When I made it to the shoe store, I found the corner furthest from everyone to set my pack down and wait for assistance. A man named Dorsey gave me three pairs of shoes to try on that he thought would work best with my wide feet and high arch. I sat there and tried each of them on multiple times. My feet were swollen and sore from the walking that day and I was struggling to pick which I thought would make my feet feel best once they were rested. Dorsey helped me find the best shoe for me at the best price! Unfortunately, the pair was a bit hard on the eyes: neon yellow accented with purple. You could see them from outer space. They are literally out of this world. Fortunately, I wasn’t looking for style. I shared my journey with Dorsey while I figured out the shoes and he gave me some energy Gu’s for the walk. I was grateful for his help and his support towards my walk. My feet had been hurting incredibly and to finally feel like I had a decent pair of shoes was a relief. Next, I wanted to try to find some summer trail pants. Sharon had notified me that she had a contact point for me to help me run some of my errands and that is how I met Shane. Shane picked me up and drove me to Chickfila before we went to search for trail pants. I freaking love Chickfila and between the familiarity and the good food, I was feeling great. My spirits were slowly lifting and it worked out perfect that Shane had a stuffy nose. Even if I did smell bad, he couldn’t tell. From Chickfila we went to a farm store called Royal King to see if they had what I was looking for. They didn’t but I wasn’t too disappointed because I got to see baby chicks and ducklings. We tried one other place but weren’t successful. I had been planning to stay at one of the shelters at the Salvation Army but Shane was kind enough to offer me his couch to sleep on. The day started off rough but it did get better and by the evening, I was feeling human. Thank you Dorsey, Sharon, Shane, and the other people who were kind to me. No one knew I was having a hard day but you all made it better.

Philippi to Sun Valley

It was a lathargic day and I was moving slow. It was a funky morning and the weather couldn’t make up its mind. There was a snow, sleet mixture that down-poured as soon as I walked out of town but then it switched to sunny and blue skies before returning to gloominess. As I approached the next town, Arden, I got word to send a message to a family in town. A hiker that started about four months ahead of me, Devon, asked me to tell the family, who let him stay with them, “Hello.” You can learn more about Devon here. I now had a mission to complete and although it was a bit of a joke starting out I did manage to deliver the message! I was looking for a house with a star on it and as I walked through town two dogs, a black lab and golden retriever, began racing around me playing with each other. A woman walked out of the house to retrieve her retriever and that’s when I asked if she’d hosted a hiker a few months back. She had! I delivered the message and felt accomplished as I continued through town, now being escorted by the black lab. The route ahead of me started out flat and began to remind me of the tow path in Maryland. The Tygart River ran on my left and the water was almost a turquoise blue. The gray sky made the color of the river pop and grab your attention. It had rapids that sparked my curiosity. I’ve only been white water rafting once but I could see the thrill and adrenaline rush someone navigating the river would have felt. As the flat stretch ended and the mountainous hills began, the liner in my boots began tearing at my heels, rubbing them raw. I stopped to put bandaids on and snowflakes began to drop from the sky. I kept walking because that is all I really had to do until dark and then began the search for a lawn for my little nylon home. No one answered at the first home but the second was successful. After answering the man’s questions to his satisfactory, he agreed to let me stay on the lawn. “Are you a criminal?” “Where are you from?” “What’s this trail like you’re on?” His lawn was rocky and a bit muddy but a grassy patch caught my eye and that would be home for the night.

Some time around 10pm the man, Ralph, came out and knocked on my tent. He invited me to come stay on the couch inside where it was warm. It had started to snow and was in the twenties but inside my tent and sleeping bag I was toasty warm and content so I thanked him but declined. In the morning, I battled the cold while putting up my tent. My fingers weren’t functioning so I took intervals of packing things up and then retreating my hands back into my armpits. I knocked on Ralph’s door to ask if I could fill up my water and he invited me inside. I ended up talking with him and his wife for over an hour. They’d offered to make me breakfast but I declined, I felt like I needed to get my day started. With anything Ralph offered to me, he’d always tag on “We don’t have much but you’re welcome to it, ” and that sparked more questions for me to ponder. Why do the people who have less tend to share more than those who are better off? The route once again took me on a scenic tour of a state park verse the straight shot to town. It was disheartening to know I would walk extra miles but I choose the journey verse the destination mentality as I always do. The day was gloomy and never varied far from freezing. The infrequent cars that drove by ignored me and refused to wave back at me. I wanted to yell at them, “I am human, acknowledge me!” The dreary weather was dampening my spirits and I wanted human interaction but I felt like I was being treated like a social outcast. When it came time to find a lawn to camp on I felt desperate. I was fatigued by hunger and cold but I couldn’t fulfill those needs until I found shelter. The first door was answered by a woman in a fire department shirt. It is amazing the emotions you can feel over the course of just a few seconds. I went from feeling desperation, to hopefulness and then to discouraged. The woman had turned me away. The church nearby had its phone disconnected. My third attempt brought me to a yard with folk art in it. The woman opened the door and listened to my plea. “In a tent?!” she inquired with disbelief. The words, “It is all I have,” surprised me as they exited my mouth. She told me that her yard was soggy but I couldn’t tell if she was telling me because she wanted an excuse to say no or if she was concerned for the conditions of my tent/sleep. Either way, I got the okay and rushed to set up my tent. I hope to be able to find a happy medium where I don’t create an expectation of someone based off my observations. I’ve realized that the people that I figured would help me, don’t, and the people that I thought won’t, do. This, of course, isn’t a rule but an observation.

The sun welcomed me as I left my tent and began packing up my things. The family whose lawn I was in had already left to school and work and it felt weird not being able to learn about the people who were so gracious to me. It was an absolutely beautiful day and the temperature was perfect. People were stopping to talk to me and one of them was a friend of the guy who’s lawn I slept in. The guy had called him and told him a hiker was camping in his yard and coincidentally he was now driving right past me. It was a nice connecting point to the family. In order to get into the town of Bridgeport I had to walk on about two miles of heavily trafficked road that had no shoulder. Urban walking doesn’t bother me a whole bunch but I’ve discovered that a coping mechanism of mine is to sing my observations or narrate my actions. So, as I walked on this road I would slip down into the ditch to give cars room to drive and then sing “Oooh my, Oooh my… I just stepped in something dead didn’t I??” as I smelled a rotten carcass before I could find it. This specific event didn’t happen frequently but once or twice is definitely more than enough. Luckily, the dead deer was ahead of me and I hadn’t stepped in it. As I got into town I wanted to treat myself to some food. After the last couple of days, I wanted to try to lift my spirits and good, wholesome food never fails to do the trick. At first I saw Domino’s Pizza but I decided maybe I’d have something different (pizza is always my go-to), next I walked by a hot dog and grill place but it looked too complicated to get inside so I kept going, and finally I came across Della’s Deli. There was a giant “OPEN” flag outside the door and the idea of a nice sandwich while sitting in the sun sounded lovely. I awkwardly squeezed through the doors and was met by Julie and Jeff. They were immediately excited to see me and to learn about what I was doing and I was equally excited to find good food and good people. They asked me what I wanted and between me telling them about my journey and being indecisive, I never answered that question. I just wanted food! I set my pack down and sat on the single stool while other customers were helped. There was an incredible amount of positive energy flowing around and I became content just sitting on the stool and talking to Jeff, Julie, and the other customers that walked in. I tried to think about what type of sandwich I wanted but it was turning into a stimulus overload situation (in a good way). Jeff eventually just hands me warm soup and begins making me a sandwich with simple either/or questions for what I wanted on it. Let me tell you, as soon as I took a bite of that sandwich I was literally savoring each bite. I tried to distinguish each individual flavor and figure out what part of the sandwich it came from. There was sweetness from the honey mustard but within the wheat bread there was another delicious flavor. I couldn’t put a name on it though! I took another bite and tried to hone in on the flavors. Next thing, it was gone. After I hung out for awhile at the deli and talked to the regular customers, Jeff and Julie offered me a place to stay. I couldn’t believe it. The night before I’d been thinking about getting a hotel room in one of the next towns but instead I stumbled upon a wonderful family who were wanting to house me. That night they took me to their weekly dinner spot, Twin Oaks, where I also got to meet one of their daughters and witness the small town camaraderie that came after a victorious swim meet at the local high school. Julie let me borrow a pair of her slip on, comfort  fit shoes so I wouldn’t have to lug around my winter boots. Let me tell you, I felt light as a feather. After putting them on, I was moving my legs every which way, kicking and jumping. It was great. So, after I got that out of my system we headed to the restaurant where I ordered a twelve inch pizza to eat (like I said, it is my go-to). I was willing to share but everyone mainly wanted to see if I could eat the whole thing. I managed five of the eight pieces and decided that if I wanted to be able to get out of the booth and walk out of the restaurant, I’d better stop. My two main thoughts for the day were “how the weather affects the way people treat one another” and “how walking is the very thing that attracts people to me but if I quit then I’m taking away the one thing that allowed me to become part of their life.” The first thought arose because of the variance in gloomy, cold days and sunny, warm days. I’m sure there are other factors as well but this day compared to the previous one were completely opposite just as the weather was. The second thought occurred because I’m sometimes offered the invitation of staying as long as I want/need at a home. These are the families where, from the beginning, I feel like I belong there. It dawned on me that if I ever felt compelled to stop walking (no worries, it hasn’t) then I’d be stopping the reason I was allowed in their life and everything would seemingly become negligible. I know in reality that isn’t how it would work but conceptually it makes sense?

Any person that is walking across the country is obviously searching for something; maybe it is a feeling, a sensation, adventure, or they’re not sure yet. Somewhere along the way, I found a concrete answer to what I’m searching for: a better version of myself. I became further emersed in Jeff and Julie’s life by attending their family breakfast at Jeff’s parent’s house. Bacon, eggs, homemade apple butter and toast, grapes, and pancakes! There was so much wonderful food but even better, the wonderful people. Jeff’s dad immediately grabbed me to start asking questions about my journey and to show me family photos. Everyone made sure I had everything I needed to eat and more. Everything was delicious, even the slightly darkened pancakes. I only bring up the pancakes because, like I said, it was all delicious and Jeff’s sister was apologetic about them. On my second round of pancakes, you read correctly – second, I snagged one of the perfectly imperfect pancakes and was told I should eat the nice, golden ones. Well, the darkened ones just had a little bit more love than the other ones but they were still just as good! As the morning continued, I needed to decide if I’d stay the day or start walking. The decision wasn’t hard but making the decision was giving me anxiety. I normally don’t drink coffee but I figured it’d help awaken me. Nope, all it did was make me even more anxious and indecisive. After about half an hour, unnecessary anxiety, and a patient Jeff, I made the decision I already knew I as going to make. I decided to stay. Some people use their rest days to watch TV or take naps but somehow I ended up filing my taxes. Yes, the wild and adventurous traveler is not excluded from adulting. That night was the rivalry basketball game between neighboring towns, Bridgeport and Clarksburg, and Julie and Jeff’s entire family (four generations) were going to be there to support one of their own, Julie and Jeff’s son. I loved witnessing the way each small community came together to support their youth. The fact that I was watching a basketball game thrilled me too! In middle school and high school basketball was my favorite sport to play and I knew the rules and regulations. It brought back great memories of the passion and dedication I felt while playing the game but being in a high school again also brought strange emotions. The person I was in high school was insecure, lost, and felt out of place. I kept busy with band, athletics, and after school clubs but inwardly I always felt like an outsider. Despite those strange emotions, I was in the bleachers admiring each beautiful shot taken, captivated by the close game, and on the edge of my seat when a turnover would happen. Bridgeport won!

My goodbye to Julie, Jeff, and their family was another one of those goodbyes that definitely wasn’t a goodbye. I walked out of their house, out of their neighborhood, but not out of their life. As I started out of town, people asked what I was training for so I shared my journey. However, it was odd. Not thirty minutes ago, I was pampered and surrounded by loving people. I had been immersed in the Bridgeport community and now I was telling someone I was walking across the country. At that point, it didn’t feel like it. Julie had given me her slide on, comfort fit shoes to wear until I was able to get to a bigger town with adequate footwear. She had worn them on her trip to Europe and now they were going on another adventure with me. We were starting the sisterhood of the traveling shoes! I was also sent off with pepperoni rolls (bread with pepperoni baked into them) which are very common in the area. I’ve had similar things but never a pepperoni roll. Later, I discovered that they were originally made for miners, by their wives, because they’d always stay good. My projected mileage for the day was 20 miles. I needed to get to Wolf Summit because that is where Julie and Jeff were going to try to find me a place to stay for the night. I was running out of sunlight when Julie contacted me and told me that a news station wanted to do an interview with me. The idea sounded great but at that moment I was hustling to get to my destination. Thirty minutes before dark, I get a message from Julie telling me she found a place I could stay. Ironically enough, it was behind me but only by a half mile. I began my trek back in the direction I’d come and waved to the same people I’d just passed. I slowed my pace and let my body relax and breathe. The people I’d be staying with were people Jeff and Julie knew from church. They had a couch waiting for me and potato soup with corn bread. I was grateful for them and the continued love and support from Jeff and Julie. Check out Julie’s article here and the interview here.

Canaan Valley to Philippi

Walking across the country takes more dedication than just walking. It takes cooperation between the walker and the people who are helping the walker to get from point a to point b. On this morning, I had to wake up by 4:30am to be able to get a ride from my friend, Lauren, to the Canaan Valley State Park lodge. I waited at the lodge until the sun rose and I was able to get an alpine start to the day. The sun broke through the clouds and lit up the snow covered forest before me. The snowstorm was over and it left a landscape that reminded me of Narnia. It was truly a winter wonderland. It was a slack packing day which comforted me on the unfamiliar trails. I was told that the trails going towards Blackwater Falls State Park could be confusing and it made me nervous delving into unfamiliar terrain in snow conditions I was unaccustomed to. The snow slowed my progress but I was caught in wonderment, ever amazed at the beauty after the storm. I made it all the way to Blackwater Falls State Park and thought I was clear of the confusing parts but I was wrong. After dethawing in the lodge, I continued my quest into the unknown. I walked along a 4×4 road that was covered in frozen streams and pools of water. I was vigilent for the lesser trail that I was suppose to turn onto but when I referenced my GPS it showed I’d overshot it. Frustrated and concerned about the loss of daylight, I retraced my steps until I found the trail.. at least what I thought was the trail. Fallen trees altered my path and blue blazes faintly led the way. I was able to follow the trail for about a mile and a half when it stopped. I scoured the terrain in front of me. My GPS showed me where it should be but the direction I needed to go was in a stream and blocked by snow covered bushes. The brush was impossible to move through with the snow pack. I couldn’t give up and just turn around. That would be uncharacteristic of me so, I bushwhacked through a thinner section and searched for a blue blaze on a tree. Nothing. I reached higher ground and still nothing. At this point, I knew I had to turn back. I needed to return to an area with road access so Lauren could pick me up for the night. That meant traveling back to the Blackwater Falls State Park lodge. I felt defeated by the trail. If I had my pack I would’ve gone around and camped where I needed to but I didn’t so I had to make sure I was able to get back before dark. I didn’t stay defeated long though, I decided to investigate a trail that took me to an overlook called Lindy Point. I was on my way there when I came across two gentlemen, a father and son from Russia, that were cross-country skiing, or at least attempting to on such rugged terrain. They were the type of people I instantly felt connected to and the conversation flowed effortlessly. All of us were heading back to the parking lot at this point and when we passed the trailhead to Lindy Point I ignored it and kept walking with them. After a day of being lost in the woods and fighting my way through snow covered trees it was a nice change of pace to have a good conversation, with other people rather than myself. After Lauren picked me up she invited me to a game night her boyfriend was hosting. The idea fascinated me even though I was exhausted so I agreed I’d join. It was a good ol’ fashion night of bananagrams, werewolves (card game), and monopoly. This is also where I met James. James has been running a marathon a month for nearly a year now while carrying 45 pounds (5 gallons) of water to raise awareness for the lack of access to clean drinking water. You can read more about his story by clicking here.

With unpleasant weather on the radar and good company, I decided a rest day was needed. A trip to the nearest Walmart was taken in search of fuel, isobutane is a bit difficult to find in some areas, and I stocked up on protein powder and granola bars. It turned out that James was also a rock climber so the opportunity to boulder (you find a big rock and climb it without gear) was upon me and I couldn’t pass it up. I obviously didn’t have climbing shoes, although I seriously thought about backpacking with them, so James was kind enough to share his pair with me. I was not deterred by the extra two inches of empty space in the toe box instead, I layered two pairs of wool socks and made them fit. I felt the roughness of the limestone boulder and became giddy. I missed climbing. I gripped the rock and pulled myself up. It didn’t seem like much but it was glorious to me. For the next couple of hours I explored the contours of the boulder and cringed when my fingers stumbled upon a stagnant pocket of water hidden from view. Next on the agenda was to experience a live performance from a folk-rock band, Driftwood, at the local café. Lauren, James, and a whole group of their friends and coworkers would be there as well as a jam packed audience. There were no longer tables to sit at so we conquered a section of floor space to sit/stand when the show started. Once the music started it was impossible not to want to move to the beat of the music. The only problem was that there wasn’t enough floor space to dance. Another girl and I saw a man dancing around outside. We both looked at each other and decided to ditch our spots inside and join this exuberant man in swinging our arms and legs to the beat of the music. The quality of the music was exactly the same as inside but now there was room to breath and dance. People watched the band and us from inside and smiled. Our vivacious attitudes attracted more people to escape the stuffiness and liberate themselves from the crowd. If you ever wanted to know how to start a movement, remember, be the second person. You enable the first person to continue and encourage the people around you that it is okay. Before we knew it, there was a large group outside the café hoopin and hollering while dancing our hearts out! It was a beautiful sight! Then, I had an epiphany. It wasn’t a realization that I can put into words but rather a feeling and a split second understanding. I knew that whatever the reasons were for meeting the people I did and being in Canaan Valley, I had accomplished them. I was now ready to continue with my journey and felt fulfilled.

Lauren sprung it on me that she wasn’t going to be able to drop me off at my start point but rather a spot that was closer to her work. I was frustrated and disheartened. “Why did I take a day to slack pack when I was just going to have to repeat the miles anyways?” I thought with frustration. About five miles would be added to my day but I had to let that go. Though disheartened, I made myself remember everything she had already done for me. She picked me up in the middle of a snowstorm, fed me, robustly introduced me to all of her friends, checked up on me when I looked like I was getting too tired, and worked with me to find the spot to drop me off at that would meet my needs and hers. I also failed to communicate my needs with her. I assumed she’d be able to drop me off but never spoke with her about it. I had no right to be upset. When she dropped me off, I was a walker again. My mindset shifted to allow me to move freely from one place to another without feelings of attachment. I knew I’d want to come back one day, in the spring or summer, to further explore the beauty of the area but for now, it was time to move on. After two days of rest, my body was ironically tight and sore but after walking for a bit I caught a cadence that kept me moving the entire day. I came across road construction and a construction worker radioed to the other end that I was coming through, or at least something was. I got to the other end and the guys told me they were getting ready to move the cones for a car when they saw me walking towards them. They were surprised, curious, and wanted to know more! After telling them about my journey one of them kindly gave me some jalapeño, cheddar crackers from his lunch. I was touched by the generosity of him sharing part of his lunch with me. In addition, they shared information about a bike trail I could take instead of walking along the designated road route. It would save me from the stress of walking along a busy road and I was filled with gratitude. As dusk approached, I needed to find a place to sleep. I was in the middle of farmland and I had few options to choose from. The first house I approached I had absolutely no idea if it was the main house or not but I knocked on the door anyways. I heard no movement but saw a dog on the inside, except it wasn’t. I looked closer and realized it was a reflection and the dog was next to me! It was a giant mop of a dog but curious and excited to make a new friend. It bounded off the porch to around the house, I thought maybe it would lead me to the family, so I briefly followed and saw a bigger, nicer house. I almost began walking towards it but realized that going any further on the property would appear suspicious so I turned around and kept walking. The next house I came across looked empty so I skipped over it and headed straight to the neighbors. I saw a light on inside and knew someone would be home. I knocked, stepped back, and a little, old lady came to the door. The stereotype of a concerned, grandma figure jumped into my head and I had high hopes. “Surely, she’d let me stay in her yard.” I thought. However, I was wrong. “I’d rather you go along somewhere else,” she told me. I thanked her for her time and walked away but my physical reaction to the rejection surprised me. It felt like a knot had swelled in my throat and panic and uncertainty started rise in me. “What now??” I stopped and talked myself out of it. “What are you doing? You were perfectly okay thirty seconds ago. You are a stranger. She owes you nothing.” I wondered down the road and coincidentally a police car drives by. They didn’t stop to talk to me but they definitely slowed down and were checking me out. I was on a country road in the middle of nowhere so it was unlikely that police would be patrolling the area but also equally unlikely that the response time would be that quick, if the lady called the cops. Let’s just call it a happy coincidence. I ended up finding a nice patch of woods and disappeared in them. It would be my first night of stealth camping. The biggest problem by far was that in order to hide my mustard yellow rain-fly I set up in a thicker brushed area and was constantly being stabbed by a thorny vine or perfectly placed face level branch. I had to constantly be on guard or one wrong movement would result in a slap in the face or a casualty to an eye. Nonetheless, I prepared for the chilly night and hoped to not be woken by an angry property owner.

My destination for the evening would take me to Philippi. The American Discovery Trail route creates a loop to take people through to learn about the history. The first civil war battle occurred here when Union soldiers fired a cannon on the Confederate troops. There were no casualties but the first amputation, a leg, occurred and that later sparked the first prosthetics business that is still one of the largest in the business today! After roughly 21 miles and at least two miles of dodging heavy traffic I made it. It was Valentine’s Day and I had a hankering for some good, wholesome, unhealthy food. After grocery shopping at the Family Dollar, I mosied a mile down the road to a KFC. I walked inside and was met by a wall of heat and curious eyes. No matter where I stood, while waiting for my food, I felt like I was in the way. After I got my food, I went to sit outside and wait for my host for the night, Alex. In that moment, I just wanted to devour the food in front of me and not be a side-show attraction. Alex dropped me off at his place while he finished work and I went into full-fledged veg-mode. I sat on the couch, watched “Tears of the Sun,” ate a bag of Sour Patch Kids, ate a mega-sized Hershey’s bar, and played with Alex’s cat, Aster. Resting at its finest!