The Chesapeake Bay Bridge was my first major hurdle, 4.3 miles of road spanned across the Chesapeake Bay without a pedestrian crossing. I had plan A, B, and C all lined up to accomplish the crossing. Option A: hitch hike. Option B: wait until a nearby family friend was able to come get me. Option C: pay for a transportation service. I walked to the furthest part of the shoulder before the bridge officially began and saw a maintenance vehicle sitting there. I knocked on the window and figured I’d try asking for a ride. It was a no go.. not in the company vehicle. Not deterred, I waited behind his vehicle with my right thumb perked in the air. I positioned myself so that people could see me and have enough time and space to decide they wanted to help me out. I waited about ten minutes and then a woman in an SUV pulled onto the shoulder. A lovely lady named Kim would drive me across the bridge. She had seen me earlier in the day walking and was curious as to what I was doing. She dropped me off at exit 32, where the trail picked up again. Thank you Kim! I had made plans for my friend Josh, from Yosemite, to meet me after I crossed the bridge and as soon as I jumped out of Kim’s vehicle I saw Josh walking across the street towards me. Kim drove away looking confused as this man approached me in the middle of an isolated intersection. I met Josh last fall while we were both rock climbing in Yosemite. We had shared a campsite but he had had to unexpectedly leave so I never had a chance to say goodbye. As life would have it, a mutual friend reminded me he lived in Maryland and gave me his contact info. Now, we were both meeting again on the completely opposite side of the country. We drove into downtown Annapolis for food and exploration of the area. We explored the Naval Academy and wandered around the docks. I jokingly mentioned swimming but when I looked into the depths of the water I saw little jelly fish swimming around. Coming from Texas, the creatures of the sea had completely evaded me. Across the street from us, there was a general store with a giant “fudge” sign and like a little kid in a candy store, I blew up with excitement and rushed through the front doors. I was going to buy some fudge. The cashier gave me flavors to try and then told me that there was a buy two, get one free deal. Lost in my excitement, I had intended to buy one and ended up with three. I had no regrets but after munching on the first block of fudge I realized that I had stunned my body with the richness of the fudge and now had trouble functioning. What was I going to do with three blocks?? I asked Josh why he hadn’t been my voice of reason and stopped me from making my delicious choice. He said he didn’t have it in him to burst my bubble of childlike bliss.
Josh is an extrinsic and charismatic individual so just like he puts me on blast and yells to an entire subway cab that I’m walking across the United States, I’m going to put him on blast for being a supportive, reliable, and generous friend. Josh opened up his home to me for the past week and drove an accumulation of four hours every day to drop me off and pick me up at my destination. He sacrificed his bed to ensure I had the luxury of comfortable sleep while he suffered from back problems exacerbated by sleeping on the couch. He exposed me to the magical pizza sauce of Ledo’s and the ridiculously fantastic crab cakes from Box Hill Pizzeria. Last but not least, he gave me emotional support for my journey. Twice now, I have felt a legitimate, physical sickness in my stomach from thinking about different portions of completing the trail. Once was before I even began the trail and the second was before I was suppose to walk through Washington D.C. The inauguration and women’s march were occurring the two days after I walked to Greenbelt National Park and I could either walk through the chaos or try to avoid it. Walking through the chaos is what gave me the sick feeling but thanks to Josh, I was able to have the option of avoiding all of it, so I did. I can’t emphasize the importance of having a stable, confident mind set each morning before I embark on the next portion of my journey. In the end, I’m the one walking and I have to make sure that I have the mental strength to practice patience when I take a wrong turn or get lost. I have to have the mental fortitude to overcome adversity.
The twenty miles between Tasker Middle School and the south parking lot of Greenbelt National Park were where I felt lack of motivation and defeat. When I’m walking without my pack, I start to loose my sense of purpose. Physically, it is miraculous and healing but I find that there is a loss of opportunity in human interactions. I turn into another person walking and my journey becomes my secret. This section is where I also took a wrong turn for the first time. In the giant blob of directions, I had read over the “turn left” and turned right. The positive side of this was that I found a mistake in the directions. Two waypoints, an elementary school and park, were along the incorrect direction I took (which is why I thought I was going the right direction) and after about 3/4 of a mile I knew something was wrong and had to back track. The other hurdle for the day were the continuously curvy roads I walked along. Curvy roads are dangerous to begin with because they create blind spots for drivers but it became sketchier when there also were no shoulders to walk along. The way I dealt with this was to continuously shuffle between each side of the road and constantly be aware of any cars that could sneak up behind me. Overall, the drivers did a good job of giving me space when they could and when they couldn’t, I flung myself into the ditch, awkwardly stood on a hill, or froze where I was at so they wouldn’t have to try to avoid a moving target. When I made it to Greenbelt Park I was surprised to learn that it was part of the national park system. The park spanned no more than three miles from the north end of the park to the south. When walking through the middle, I could consistently hear the engines buzzing by on highway that bordered the park perimeter and see hotels and homes through the forest.
The time finally came to say goodbye to Josh. He and his brother were flying out of town and I needed to find a means to get back to my last hiking spot. I ended up being able to ride with them to the airport and then find a Lyft (similar to a taxi/uber) driver to take me the rest of the way. Everything about my situation perplexed the Lyft driver. He picked me up from the airport but I hadn’t been on a plane. I wanted him to drive me to an empty parking lot at 6am and leave me in the darkness. Every routine question he asked me was answered with a response that led to more questions. He had been doing the driving gig for awhile now and never had he come across a story like mine. I was walking now to Georgetown, MD, and another reality was upon me. I found my first dirt trail here. The Valley Trail in Rock Creek Park was marked with blue, square blazes (blue spots were painted on the trees to mark the way). The dirt under my feet gave way to me and the weight of my pack as I galloped up the hill. It felt natural, familiar. This was the hiking that I knew. When I got to Georgetown the Maryland coordinator, Peter, picked me up from a Starbucks (it was the easiest place to find me) to host me for the night. While I waited for Peter, I sat outside in an impressively fancy area and a man asked me where I was travelling to (he noticed the 50 pound pack on my back). I told him I was walking to California and he looked baffled. He began lecturing me and telling me I should fly to California. He told me I needed to be trained in how to survive in the wilderness and that there are large, unfriendly animals out there. He told me to trust him because he knew about wild animals. In the middle of this lecture, Peter thankfully arrived and I was then able to perplex the man by jumping into a car after I told him I was walking to California. Peter drove me back to his house where I was met by his wife and son. They were filled with so much joy and excitement. They wanted to know about my guiding in wilderness therapy and had veggie lasagna waiting for me after I showered. After dinner, I looked at maps of the route in Maryland and gave notes on portions of the trail that were confusing. I felt a sense of duty to help improve the American Discovery Trail. I wanted future hikers to have an even clearer route to follow.
Rain was in the forecast so it was decided that I would slack pack for the day on the C&O Canal and stay another night with Peter and his family. In the morning, it was misty and windy. My rain jacket did its job and my water resistant pants were holding up to the weather. Then it began to down pour. I had walked about six miles and had another eight miles before I would get to the next shelter, a visitor center. I could feel my pants saturating. The water crawled its way to the waist of the pants and seeped through to drench my socks and then boots. At that point, I was walking on water. Four more miles to go. My legs were numbing, my feet were soggy. My hands were useless and all I could do was keep going. I knew that with time, I would get there. I would eventually be warm and dry again. I appreciated the kindness of Peter and his family for giving me a home to recover in after such a storm. I made it to the visitor center but it was closed. I hid in the bathroom instead to escape the weather and to wait for Peter to come get me. I dumped water out of my boots into the sink and rung my socks out. I was chilly but grateful to be out of the wind. My clothes clung to me in their dampness as I sat and waited. I played with the hand dryer to see if I could effectively dry anything but everything was too far gone. Thank you Peter and family, your kindness and dedication to the trail has given me a greater understanding of the trail as a whole. Thank you for your generosity!