Monday, November 23, 2009

An American Walkabout




As soon as I made it home, I cracked open the laptop and started typing. (Actually, I battled with my overexcited dog, kissed my girlfriend and ate some chicken... but you know what I mean) What was I typing? The beginning of my book 'An American Walkabout' which will chronicle my trip from the earliest thoughts and desires to take some random adventure to the minute I walked back through the door and dropped my heavy pack on the floor of the livingroom and everything in between.

I'm currently about 30,000 words in and have plenty more to type. It's going to take a while to finish this thing, but I'll get it done. This trip has taught me determination and I'm using that to plow through the events and thoughts and emotions that made up this journey. It's all going into the book. Every bit of it. Everything you read in this blog and plenty more will be in the manuscript. So if you want to hear more about my travels, I'll give you the opportunity. I'm putting it all down and I'm willing to share with you guys the story of my Walkabout and how it changed me.

If you want to read it, I'll give you a copy. And if you want to hear about it, offer me a cup of coffee and I'll sit with you for hours and tell you all about the trip. I'll even tell you about the two guys and the giant pumpkin in the photo with me.

Monday, November 16, 2009

62 Days



Two months, ten states, 44 towns and 43 rides ago I left on a trip that I figured would change me in some way. I had with me a mental list of goals to accomplish and places I wanted to visit. I calculated the walking time to get from one destination to another and figured that it would take at least nine months to do it all, a little more if I added goals along the way, less time if I was able to hitch hike. I started this journey under the assumption that hitching was virtually impossible. Everyone had told me that no one picks up hitchers anymore. It was a thing of the past.

That was then, and then I believed them.

Now, after hitching hundreds of miles in a single day, catching 4 rides in 5 hours and six rides in one day, I know that hitching is alive and well and quite common. All you need to hitch is traffic and a wide shoulder for someone to pull over.

What does this mean? This means that in 62 days I was able to cover more ground than I could have by walking for a year. It means I was able to move about with such freedom and speed that it surpassed even my wildest expectations. It means that I was able to scratch off all those destinations from my list in a matter of weeks.

But after visiting all the places I wanted to visit, seeing the Appalachian Mountains, Providence, Boston, Pennsylvania, virtually all of North Carolina, etc. I still had something I needed to do. All of the physical goals had been accomplished, but my trip couldn't end. There was still something missing. I still had that hole that needed to be filled.

While in Providence, I realized what it was that I was missing, what I needed to feel whole, and I couldn't turn back until I found it. Even though all other goals had been accomplished and then some, I still had some searching to do.

I spent a week in the Blue Ridge Mountains, completely isolated. I didn't see a single person for over seven days and during that time I had countless hours to reflect. I took a long, hard look at myself and my life and my future plans. I did a lot of meditating. Relaxing. Examination. I can't tell you what it was that I discovered there, during my time away from people, but I can tell you this: I found what I have been searching for for so very long.

Every person has a hole in them, a certain something that is missing. Some people find it when they're young. Some when they're old. Some search their entire lives. Some give up and accept a certain amount of emptiness as a part of their being. I was lucky enough to find what I was looking for in those mountains. Away from all human life, without being distracted by voices for a week, I could hear my own and it was crying out for one thing and there, in the valley that I called home for a time, I found what I needed. When I walked out of those mountains on November 9th, I was finally whole. I was no longer missing anything.

That's when I looked around and tried to figure out where to go next. I had no idea when I went into the mountains, but when I came out, I knew exactly where I needed to be and when I needed to get there. I had a challenge before me, but I was up for it.

I hitched west along I-40, but was blocked by a rockslide before reaching Tennessee. Then I had to deal with more bad weather coming out of Virginia after taking my detour. Asshole cops in Knoxville delayed me a bit, but I got around them, also. I had trouble hitching along I-59 South out of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, but after 5 hours I managed to get a lift from a great guy named Doug. Then finally, this very morning, I woke up in Slidell, LA at 6:30, looked at my watch and decided that I would be at my destination by lunch time. I decided that I would cross the state in under 6 hours.

At 6:45 I caught my 43rd ride from a trucker named George from Laredo. And at 10:40 AM, I got out of his truck and looked at my surroundings. I was familiar with the parking lot I was standing in. I recognized the smell of the air. I took it all in, shouldered the pack that I've been carrying for two months and started stamping the pavement once again.

I walked onward, along the path I've been traveling all along, heading toward the destination that's been before me since I stepped from my yard in September. I walked with the same determination and resolve that took me through the most difficult parts of my journey. Like the time I spent in Mobile when I felt like gutter trash, or walking aimlessly and lost after my travel journal had been stolen, or the most difficult steps of all, those taken after my cousin turned back and went home, when I was truly alone. I marched forward, following the sound of the road as it led me across town, through familiar neighborhoods until I was at last at my own front door.

Why did my trip, which I anticipated would take a year, only last two months? There was no set time. I said in the beginning that it would take as long as it takes. I had to look for something and I had things to do, and it only took a month and some change to do most of it. And once I found what I was looking for, something that changed me on a personal level, everything I set out to do was done.

I wasn't homesick. That feeling faded after my second week. Home was always the final destination. I was heading home the entire time, I just took the scenic route. When I walked through the door, I didn't feel regret for not spending more time on the road or seeing more states. Like all the places I visited, I was exactly where I needed to be at exactly the right time. I look back over the last two months and can't believe that it was only 62 days. It seems like forever ago that I slung that heavy pack over my shoulder and lit my cigar, stepping across the lawn with dozens of friends and family members cheering me on. I look at all the new friends I made along the way, Doug, Alex, Chris, Taylor, Samantha, Shamba, Rex, Mike, Maciek, Derek, Steve, Josh and all the others, too numerous to mention, and I wonder how I fit it all in in such a short amount of time.

I am home, and it's good to be back. It's been a great day today, and this trip has been nothing short of wicked-awesome (that's a technical term). It didn't take as long as I thought it would, but that's fine by me. It lasted as long as it needed to, not a day longer, nor was it a day too short.

Is this blog over? Not by a long shot. I have a million stories to tell about this trip and just because one adventure is finished, that doesn't mean that the Newanderthal is done adventuring. I have lots more to do and lots more to share.

So keep checking back.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Another Detour, Another Surprise

Hitching in the rain is nearly impossible. No one wants to stop, and if they do, it's usually not saf for them to make a sudden lane change and pull over, especially on the interstate. So after an entire day of standing in the rain, trying to hitch along I-40 West, I managed to land only two rides, taking me from Icard to Black Mountain, North Carolina. I wasn't far from Asheville and if I could get a break from the constant rain, I knew it wouldn't take long to hit Tennessee. But the day was late and with dark comes the realization that I must fnd shelter for the night for no one will pick up a hitcher when the sun drops. I explored the tiny town of Black Mountain and found that the only overpass had no concrete shelf on which to sleep. The terrain nearby was also uneven at best, and everything was saturated, including me. Without a truck stop where I could wash clothes, I had no way to get dry or stay dry, so I did the last thing I ever wanted to do on this trip. I sinned.

I got the cheapest room at the only inn I could find and washed all of my soiled clothes. And after nearly 8 full days in the mountains and several more on the road, that was all of them. I did my laundry and showered, my first bathing in 10 days. Then I went to sleep.

While ransacking the complimentary breakfast this morning, I overheard a conversation about he Blue Ridge Mountains and a fellow traveler with an Australian accent said that he had done some driving on the Blue Ridge Parkway. He talked about the scenery and I mentioned that I had recently done some camping there. I mentioned I was heading west on I-40 and that's when I learned that rockslide had covered the road west of there. My path was blocked. I decided to take a detour and started consulting my map. I had several options, but in the end, the decision was easy. Chris, the Aussie, told me he was heading up to Roanoke, VA and I could ride with him. From there I could get on I-81 South which runs almost parallel to I-40 West. I'd end up in Knoxville either way and I'd be able to add Virginia to my list of states. And then he says with his Austalian accent "So I just bought this car" and shows me his keys. I thought to myself "so this is the guy who owns that Aston Martin Vantage parked outside."

The ride was great. The sporty import gripped the slick roads of the Blue Ridge Parkway like a gecko, and we cruised along the scenic byway, enjoying the view and the agility of the car, despite the occasional fog and continuous rain. We rocked out to Red Hot Chili Peppers, Led Zeppelin and Metallica. But when we got on the parkway, Chris killed the music so we could enjoy the sound of the engine. It was purely a driving experience.

We rolled into Roanoke a little after dark and Chris pulled into Outback Steakhouse. What a fitting place to eat. A guy with an Australian hat on Walkabout and a true Aussie going there for dinner. We chowed down and Chris sprung for my meal, which was qute the generous gesture. Afer some tasty grub and a bit of relaxing he drove on to a Quality Inn. I told him I was more than willing to seek out the nearest overpass for a good night's sleep, but he was insistent on hooking me up with a room. I hesitantly accepted the offer.

I'm now staying in a very nice room and will get another nice breakfast tomorrow. I've anaged to get a shower two days in a row an tomorrow, the weather will be better and I'll be on on the interstate, hitching west.

I've added another state, another city, another great ride and another friend to my ever growing list.

Thanks Chris. This has been quite the pleasant detour. And thank you, oh gracious rockslide. I'll get around you soon, though. You cannot stop the Newanderthal.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Out of the Woods

It was last Monday when I stepped off of Highway 321 and marched into the Blue Ridge Mountains, and now, a week later, I stumbled out, limping slightly and more energized than ever.

I stayed in seclusion the entire time, not seeing a single person while out there, and yet I never felt lonely. I went to the most secluded place in North Carolina to NOT see people and I got just what I expected as far as that is concerned.

After a week of reflection and self-evaluation, I've made several decisions concerning myself, decisions that should change how I live the rest of my life. I came to realize that much of what I had done in the past was selfish and many other things only held me back. I can't live that way any longer and, now matter how difficult, I must make changes.

Parts of me, parts I didn't like, I intend to leave behind in those hills. Hopefully I can break certain habits and move forward in a more positive manner with my life. Hopefully, my time in the valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains will have left a permanent mark on my soul.

It's a magical place, peaceful and quiet except in the late afternoon when the wind whips over the ridge and rushes down into the valley, roaring and flinging leaves in every direction. Simply beautiful. Deer and turkey can be seen every single day and if you sit still enough, they'll walk within feet of you, eating and exploring.

I built no fires while I was there, chopped down only one small tree to use as a crutch after straining a muscle, and left no trace that I have ever walked into that area... which is more than I can say for some people. I found a bulldozer trail in that valley. Ruin is coming to the most remote area of North Carolina. That magical place will soon be pocked with summer homes for the retirees of Florida and scarred with roads.

I don't plan to ever visit that place again. It was so beautiful and did so much good for me, I'd rather remember it as it is now, not how it will be in a year. Right now it's bruised. I won't visit that place once civilization has raped it.

I have a new destination in mind and mus move quickly. I've set new challenges for myself and I must see if I can meet them. Now I'm back to the Road.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

On the Horizon


For the past several weeks I've been bouncing from one home to another, hanging out with all kinds of interesting people. I've joked around with Jazz musicians and lived in a tee pee. I've had moonshine at college football games and ate chicken feet in China town. I've met some of the nicest, most interesting people in the recent past and I wouldn't trade those experiences for the world. But now it's time for a different type of adventure.

Some of the most emotional times on this trip have come while traveling alone. I learn more about myself when there's no one else around and the spirit of travel can more freely work on me when no one else is around. The experiences are more real, more powerful, and more meaningful when I do not have to share them. Also, it's so much easier to understand what I need to do when I don't have the distractions of companions.

I haven't traveled like this in a while and I could feel that I was missing something and now it's time to get back to the solo experience. No more couch surfing. No more hanging out. No more new friends. Not for a while. And to kick off the next leg of the journey, I'm going to spend a lot of time alone.

The place the Road is taking me next is not near a road at all. I looked over maps of Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina and North Carolina and found the most remote location out of those four states... possibly the most remote location in the eastern portion of the country.

In the Blue Ridge Mountains, a place filled with clear streams and black bears, there is a spot that is at least 3 miles from the nearest road or house in any direction. The terrain is extremely rugged and walking to this spot from the nearest road will take several hours. I will not be able to see or hear anything manmade. I won't be bothered by people. I'll be completely and totally alone.

I'm not sure exactly how long I'll be there, drinking from streams, living in the mountains, exploring the wilderness and existing simply, but I'm going to be prepared to stay for 7 days without coming out, possibly more. I'll do this part of the trip just like any other. I'll have no definite plans apart from staying true to the spirit of travel and the desire to experience things as fully as possible. I'll go in to see the area and to reconnect with myself after so many distractions. I'll prepare myself for a lengthy stay and come out early if it feels right to do so, or forage for food to prolong it if 7 days isn't enough. I'll put myself where I need to be and see what happens.

I'll be doing a lot of reflection over the next several days, looking into myself like never before and trying to understand everything that's there. Alone in the woods, examining my conscience, this is what I need to do right now. I need to test myself in a whole new way. I need to continue peeling back the layers. I need to see everything more clearly. I'm not going to guess what the next week will be like, but however it goes, I'm sure I'll have plenty to write about and even more to think about.

I won't be able to update the blog, read or reply to emails, or make any phone calls until I come out of the mountains, so don't be alarmed if you don't hear from me for a week or so.

Goodbye for now. I'll update again when I can.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Plants and more... zombies?

So, while living amongst the tee pee folk I was introduced to an awesome woman named Holly who lives right up the hill and is mega-hardcore into wild edible plants and such. So hardcore, in fact, that she hosts these giant weed-eating feasts. I'm not talking about grazing like farm animals, but 6 course meals of stir fry, casserole, pie, salads, and all sorts of other examples of culinary greatness.

Holly and her son had gathered a ton of various wild plants that grow in the area, most of which are likely pictured on the back of that bottle of weed killer you keep in the garage. She put us all to work in the kitchen dicing and chopping assorted leaves and roots and flowers and seeds and adding them to the various recipes. It seemed we were taking normal, delicious dishes and replacing all the veggies with the stuff that I considered random weeds. It was sure to be a disaster and I was gearing myself up for the disappointment, while simultaneously trying to learn as much as possible. As a backpacker, I wanted to know how to identify and prepare wild edibles in the area. That sort of information is invaluable in the wilderness, though I didn't think it would be much use in a modern kitchen where broccoli and salt could be found readily.

Shows what I know. The meal, 6 or 7 different dishes, not counting the uber-badass apple pie, smelled so good I was about to chew off my own arm just to fill my stomach. When it was all ready and we dug in, I was totally and utterly floored. This was some seriously good cooking. I've been cursed with some bland meals on this trip and as a Cajun, that's something I can't tolerate. In most places I've been, the food has been boring and bland. This meal, engineered by Holly and prepared by the guests, was beyond rock-awesome (technical term). I piled my plate high and ate it down to the porcelain. Everything on there was killer-good and the flavors were so rich and defined. They were also so new. Many of the ingredients tasted similar to something I was familiar with, but different enough to make it interesting.

The drinks were assorted teas made from just about everything you can imagine, like peaches, honey, and about a thousand other things, all mixed together to make about 5 different bottles, each with its own brand of goodness. I took a little of each so I could sample them all. Then we were also treated to some fresh mint tea, made from mint leaves picked earlier, and pine needle tea that I helped gather.

I learned a bit more about wild edibles after dinner, but my education really picked up when I spotted Holly outside my tee pee the following day, foraging in the area. I walked with her, picking things that she pointed out and learned each by name. I wasn't sure when I'd be able to put my knowledge to use, but the opportunity came earlier than I thought. This morning, while walking through the town of Boone, I passed through a vacant lot near downtown. While walking through, the assorted weeds sprang out at me as plantain, mullein, burdock, dandelion and red clover. Even in the dim light of the early morning, I was able to spot the different plants with ease. By the time I had walked to the far end of the lot, I had eaten my breakfast. By the way, red clover blossoms taste exactly like broccoli.

So that was all cool. My newfound knowledge is coming in handy already... and a few hours ago a random guy informed me that tomorrow night is the first annual Boone Zombie March where potentially 150 people will dress as zombies and march on the town of Boone, raiding shops, coffee houses and bars. How do I keep finding myself among zombies?

Monday, October 26, 2009

Riot Punch, Moonshine and Mint Tea

After hanging out in Hickory for several days I migrated northwest to the mountain town of Boone, North Carolina. I rode up there with a guy named Taylor who is obsessed with Appalachian State University and "It's Always Sunny in Philladelphia". So obsessed, in fact, that when one of the characters on that show went to a baseball game toting a drink called 'Riot Punch', he contacted the writers of the show, asked for the recipe, and then after getting a reply, made a gallon of the troublesome concoction and got thoroughly blitzed at the ASU game the following day. I have to say, Riot Punch is quite tasty and when I finally make it home, I'll make up a gallon for anyone who wants to try some.

While hanging with Taylor in the ASU parking lot, a group of tailgaters were building some wicked-awesome barbecue. I wasn't ashamed to snag a plate and devour it. I couldn't let it go to waste. Besides, I consider myself to be quality control and the food needed my stamp of approval. Before the game started and I made my way away from campus, a guy passed through, talked with us a bit, and after sampling the Riot Punch, he offered us some of his own drink, a mason jar full of Moonshine.

I'm not sure it's possible for any bacteria to grow in my body right now. That shit could strip the paint off an oil tanker. I think it cleaned my teeth.

After a little more time wandering the streets of Boone, which is an awesome little town surrounded by mountains, I ran into a girl I'd talked with online and she took me back to her llama farm where her and her boyfriend live... in a tee pee. yeah, you heard me right, a tee pee on a llama farm.

I've been kissed by a black llama named Cusco and squawked at by non-egg-laying chickens. It's a bit different than what I'm accustomed to. The tee pee is pretty cool, made from pine poles and stretched canvas. It has a flap that can be opened to let the smoke out and closed to prevent the rain from coming in. It has central heating (a wood burning stove in the center of the floor) and plumbing (a compost outhouse that's 40 feet away).

When I started this trip, I hadn't heard of Boone, had no interest in hanging with llamas (the ones near my house are plotting to kill me) and didn't think that anyone still lived in tee pees.

I found some mint plants growing on the farm and harvested a few leaves, took some water from a nearby stream, and made some mint tea on my alcohol stove. It was quite tasty, but I should have shredded the leaves more before making the tea (I'm just drinking all sorts of homemade things lately).

I'll be in the tee pee until Wednesday, then I'll be off again, running in some random direction. I'm not sure where I'll go once I leave Boone. I might just hitch for several days and go wherever the drivers will take me. If I make a decision, I'll be sure to let you guys know. If not, I'll let you know where I am when I get there... assuming I can figure it out.

Thanks for following along. It's been a blast so far and each day seems more exciting than the last. There's nothing I'd rather be doing right now.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Redistribution

I'm backtracking a bit with this post, going back to Providence, RI to an experience I was just reminded of. Possibly the most meaningful experience I've had on this trip. Possibly one of the most important things people can do for each other.

It was a cool day in a public park. My Couchsurfing host drove two other guests and I there and we unloaded several milk crates that were full of produce. We carried it in and placed it on the ground near a walking path. Several other people, including the organizers of this little event, were doing the same. They set up the boxes of food, produce mostly, but there was also cereal, instant mashed potatoes, and even fresh baked bread from a bakery. It all looked so good. The spread made me want to cook soup.

It was all garbage. This was good food that the grocery stores and farmer's markets were going to throw out. It was being bagged to be tossed out when these guys got it, taking it to the park instead of watching it go to the dumpster.

Had the produce been bad, rotten, spotted, etc. it would have been different. But it wasn't. It was just excess. The box of cereal was being thrown out because the corner of the box had been crushed in during shipping. The packaging was unsightly, so the food was being tossed. The box wasn't even breached. It was the same for the mashed potatoes and countless other items. Good food, just some asinine reason for getting rid of it.

After the food was laid out, people began arriving. Homeless people. Poor people. People who didn't get paid enough to purchase all the things they needed, like college kids. They walked up, each browsing the selection and taking what they needed. They placed the lettuce in a plastic bag gathered from a pile of bags and then went for the celery. The potatoes and broccoli were soon gone. The bread, that tasty bakery bread, was snatched up. There were tooth brushes too. And a guy from a local bike shop was doing free bike repairs for anyone who needed it. So many of these people ride bikes because it's cheaper and this guy was helping keep their bikes on the road longer and also teaching them how to do the repairs themselves.

I stood, watching what these guys were doing. They were taking the excess that our wasteful society creates and were distributing it to those who truly needed it. There was no charge, there was no catch, no strings attached. You didn't have to listen to a sermon like the "Food Not Bombs" groups can put you through. It was just food, there, for anyone who needed it. That's it.

I remember quite well what's it's like to be treated like I'm no longer a person. Although it has happened sparingly on this trip, it takes it's toll. It hurts. Some of these people experience that on a daily basis. They can't escape from that. They can only deal with it, whatever way they can.

On that cold afternoon in that nice little park, they approached with a smile, picked up what they needed and thanked the guys who organized the redistribution of excess for their work and for their kindness. Regardless of how the rest of society treats them, for that short while they were people again. Their humanity was restored.

Every week in that park this happens. These guys find excess food that would otherwise be thrown out and bring it to the people who can use it. But in doing so they give them so much more than just a meal.

I'd like to thank those guys and if I hadn't mailed off my full journal already, I'd post their names here. Anyway, thanks guys. Thanks for doing what you do. Thanks for helping those who need it while so many others simply ignore them. Thanks for making a difference to so many people. Thanks for changing lives and doing something positive. Thanks for not letting good things go to waste when people need it. Thanks.

And Nathan, if you have the names of those other guys who help out with this, please post it in a comment.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Worse than Swine Flu



So I've been hanging out in Durham with a Polish guy named Maciek (Mah-sheck). It's a pretty cool area of the country and the nearby towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro are quite scenic. Also, the people around here are very nice. I picked up a souvenir to send home to my Godson at a local outdoor outfitter and and finished off another 1GB memory card to mail back home.

The small town feel of Carrboro is great, and the compact nature of Durham makes it walker friendly, which is beneficial to a person who is hoofing it most of the time. But there is one major problem with this area...

ZOMBIES!

I hung out with a bunch of couchsurfers on Wednesday, and many of them had never met each other. While I sat back and listened to them, the conversation drifted to the topic of zombies. This has been a constant among all the places where I've made friends, and it's not because of me or my obsession with the walking dead. I didn't start the conversation. I barely even join in. People just start talking about it and I sit back and enjoy. Another common theme is that I keep meeting people named Bonnie, which is significant because I once wrote a short story entitled 'Bonnie Versus the Zombies'.

So I'm sitting there on Wednesday while ten strangers talk about zombies and by the end of the evening they decide that it would be a good idea to dress up as zombies, drive to Raleigh, and invade a bar.

Yeah, I thought it was a good idea too.

So Saturday night, fifteen people, most of which I had never seen before, shambled into The Big Easy in downton Raleigh in full zombie attire... while a live band was playing.




It took only minutes for the walking dead (including myself) to completely take over the dance floor where they danced their zombie dances and frightened the living patrons. The band (Boomerang) made several references to the undead crowd and everyone who walked into the bar stopped for a doubletake as they were suddenly confronted with over a dozen zombies, many of which were decorated with fake blood.


I can't recall the names of most of the people there (I'm like that with names), but they were all great. One standout was a girl whom I had met on Wednesday who had a part in the movie 'Fistful of Brains', a zombie ripoff of the Clint Eastwood movie 'Fistful of Dollars'. I almost purchased that movie about six months ago. She has promised that if I get a copy, she'll autograph it for me.

I told people before that I would be present when the zompocalypse started and few believed me. Well, it's begun and I hate to say 'I told you so', but I did.



I'm leaving the area tomorrow to head west toward Greensboro. The weather is pretty chilly, with lows in the mid 40's. My sleeping bag is only rated for about 60 degrees, but I can bundle up in some thermals. I'm through with public transportation and will begin hitching as soon as I make it to I-85. After Greensboro, I'll move further west and see the mountainous areas of the state. After that... it's anybody's guess. I don't plan that far ahead. Last time I did I took a thousand mile detour.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

North Carolina and More

So far I'm digging North Carolina. Durham seems like a pretty cool city, but I'm spending some time in Carrboro, a small town south of Chapel Hill. It has a real community feel to it. People hang out near a grocery co-op and do their work on laptops while others walk their dogs, play with kids and do yoga. I took a nap on a bench there for an hour and no one bothered me. Actually, the people in general were quite friendly.

I intend to spend some time in this state, exploring Durham, Greensboro, Hickory, Boone and Ashville. I'm not just searching for a way to truly experience the area, but also searching for a place that I might like to move to. I need a change of scenery and with the constant Louisiana summer I can only go camping about two months out of the year. I want a state that actually has different seasons, instead of 9 months of summer and then a few cold fronts in January.

I'll probably be around the Durham area for about a week before hitching over to another spot. Once in Greensboro, I'll spend a few days checking out the small towns that surround it and looking at some of the hiking trails. Then it's on to Hickory and then Boone.

After I've checked out some different areas and experienced a decent portion of the state from the perspective of the locals, I'm going to turn my travels in a different direction. I've scoured maps of the state and found a place I want to go, an experience I want for myself. It's going to be tough, but I think what I plan to do around the end of the month or early November will help me grow as a person and an adventurer.

I'll keep you guys posted as I prepare for the next part of my journey, my next test.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Providence to...

After attending the Water Fire festival in Providence, Rhode Island where several boats ceremoniously lit baskets of oak floating in the Providence River and thousands of onlookers gathered to watch the spectacle, listen to the live music, eat various foods and just hang out, I gathered my things and prepared to depart. The following morning, I bid farewell to my hosts, Derek and Nathan, and set off to catch a bus. Hitching is so difficul in the northeast, so I was doomed to once again take a bus.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that two other couchsurfers, Chris and Brian, were also taking the same bus from Providence to North Carolina. A bus that decided not to work and Brian had to play mechanic and help get the bus rolling. After a half hour dealy at the terminal, we were finally on the road.

In New York, Chris spotted a pizza joint that had jumbo slices for dirt cheap. I ate two slices and had a Dr. Pepper for $2.75. Unfortunately I didn't have cash and Brian was kind enough to spring for it. Thanks dude. I owe you one. The pizza was freaking awesome and it illustrates that sometimes you really can buy happiness.

I managed to make it through the bus terminal in New York without getting robbed, but then again I literally held onto my carry on bag the whole time. Our new bus driver was a complete and total asshole. He was a rude prick and most likely mentally unstable. Go Greyhound!

After an eternity on the bus, which broke down in the Lincoln Tunnel for no apparent reason, I was dropped off at my destination. I said my goodbye's to Chris and Brian and left the bus to be greeted by the cool morning air, a fresh breeze, and the sunrise over downtown Durham, North Carolina.

Now that I've returned to the southern states, I can once again travel the way that God intended. I can stick my thumb in the wind and walk until my feet are sore, hoping for a kind soul with some extra room in his truck. With the sour luck I've had with busses, I'm sure that I was meant for hitching. Besides, it costs $108 to get from Providence to Durham by bus, but it was free to get from Montgomery to Scranton, and it actually took less time.

Not sure when I'll get a chance to be online again. Haven't had any responses from couchsurfers, so I'll most likely go looking for a spot to camp.

It's beautiful here in Durham, and I think I might linger for several days to check the place out. Since I plan on moving to this state, I'll probably be here for a while, checking out towns and cities and forests and trails.

Stay safe everyone. I'll update when I can.

Friday, October 9, 2009

How Far I've Come

It's day 25 of my Walkabout Adventure and I've spent much of the day reflecting on my travels. I read through my journal and added some more entries. It was a good day for reflection and after looking everything over, I can see how far I've come and I'm amazed at it all.

In just this short amount of time, three and a half weeks, I've visited 24 towns and cities in 6 different states. In Louisiana I've been in Sulphur, Westlake, Lake Charles, Welsh, Jennings, Grosse Tete, Chalmette and Slidell. In Alabama I've seen Mobile, Saraland, Montgomery, Alabaster and Birmingham. In Pennsylvania I've visited Scranton, Carlile and Hazelton. I've seen New York City (just long enough to get robbed). I've hung out in Providence, Cranston, Warwick and Newport, Rhode Island. And finally I've seen Boston, Wellesley and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

So far my transportation has cost me a grand total of $104, which I could have saved had the cops not been so anal about hitchhikers. But it's not bad. It's a minor setback and one I can afford. I look at the list of places and I wonder how many more stops I have to make. I wonder where I will be next. I still have so much to do and see and experience and learn. Sometimes I think it'll take a lifetime... or a month. I don't know. I never imagined I'd get this far, but I'd always hoped.

The trip as a whole confuses me, as I don't know what to expect or where I will be next. But right now I'll focus on where I've been and what I've done, seen, learned and experienced. I'll worry about the future when it arrives.

What's my biggest accomplishment thus far?
I'd say it's making it from Birmingham to Pennsylvania in a day, which I owe entirely to a truck driver named Stan whom I saw parked on the shoulder of the interstate outside Birmingham. He was updating his trucker's log when I walked by and he asked where I was going. I told him that I had just decided to go to Rhode Island to watch the leaves change and he said he could get me to Pennsylvania. Thanks Stan. I guess that was really his accomplishment, not mine.

What's my fondest memory?
That's a tough one, but after a little debate I'd have to go with the one that keeps popping up and giving me a warm feeling. A guy named Alex who let me crash at his place when I got into Providence has a beautiful daughter named Allie. I think she's three. I walked into the house one day and she ran across the room and hugged my leg. There's nothing quite like being greeted by a child to brighten a day. Thanks Allie and Alex.

Best time?
Another tough one. It's either the intellectual conversations with Rex in Montgomery, Alabama or riding across Louisiana with Steve and Josh, listening to Ryan Bingham and feeling the wind whip through the open window. Both experiences were cool in completely different ways. Hanging with a couple of good old boys and discovering a new musician that fills you with so much energy is awesome, but so is meeting a kindred spirit who shares so many of the same passions as you. Thanks Rex, Steve and Josh.

Best meal?
That one is easy. I've had some nice feasts, but the best was cooked by Henry in Boston. His steak rocks. It was so juicy, tender and tasty. Henry, keep on rocking. And the meal had great company too.

Hardest time?
That's another easy one. The most difficult part of my trip, in retrospect, was my time in Mobile, Alabama. So many of the people there were so cruel. Even losing my journal couldn't compare to how I felt coming out of Mobile. I didn't even feel like a human being.

Scariest moment?
That's a tough one. I got picked up by a guy named Jerry who was a pinhead who listened only to teenage girl pop music which only served to stir up his numerous emotional problems causing him to punch the dashboard of the truck. I was fine with that, but he also couldn't drive for shit. It was a white-knuckle ride from Saraland to Montgomery. It was a very intense hour. The other scary moment was when the crackhead couple under the overpass north of Mobile decided they wanted to attack me after doing a few lines of coke. The guy was shouting something unintelligible and threatening and marching forward. His woman was doing the same. I think they wanted to rob me but he had a difficult time annunciating. That confrontation lasted only about a minute, but it was pretty scary.

Worst pain?
That would be a phone call I made on the morning of September 17th. I had wanted to make that call on the 16th, but couldn't make it to a payphone in time and slept in a field. I didn't know that hearing a person's voice could cause physical pain, but it can if you miss that person enough. Hearing a person's voice but not being able to touch them can tear a hole right through your heart. I don't think I've ever felt a pain like that before.

Coolest place?
Providence, Rhode Island. Hands down. I went there on a whim, or what I call "Ooh! Moments" and decided to spend 10 days there. The whole area rocks and it's so beautiful. On top of that, the people are so friendly. If you've never been, plan a trip for mid October so you can see the changing leaves. If you have been, you know exactly what I'm talking about.


This trip has been magic thus far. The ups have been great and the downs have been a learning experience. I've seen so much and traveled so far (emotionally and geographically) and I still have lots to do. I have activities to do, things to write, pictures to take and a boss-wicked festival to scope out... and that's just in the next 24 hours. Then I'm migrating south (I think) to check out another part of the country that I've always been interested in and to take my trip to a new level by living in a whole new manner.

I want to thank everyone who encouraged me and believed in me while I was gearing up for this trip. Your words are kept close to my heart and help me when the road gets tough and my feet grow tired. Thanks. And to all those people who have started following since my trip began, thank you. Most of you are people who helped me in some way, large or small. I see people listed as followers who picked me up off the side of the road. I see people who just offered friendly conversation when I was at my lowest. And I see people whose names I do not recognize at all. Your fascination with my blog fills me with inspiration and prompts me to continue writing and giving updates.

Thank you all for everything you've done. Great or small, you are helping me through a difficult but wonderful trip.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Reasons and Explanations


So I read a post on my Brother's Blog and I realize that many people still have questions about me, my trip and my reasons. People have questions and though I don't feel obligated to answer them, I'll do it anyway. I'll explain what it is I'm doing as clearly as I can and I'll explain how I'm doing it. Hopefully this will clear the air and set people's minds at ease. Hopefully this will clarify everything and lend some understanding.

If not, oh well.

"Where is he sleeping?"
Wherever I can. Sometimes it's an overpass beneath a random interstate where the hum of passing trucks lulls me to sleep. Sometimes it's the house of a kind stranger who opens his doors to me for whatever reason. Sometimes it's in the home of a person I met online. Other times it's in the dirt under trees.

"How is he getting around? Is he hitchhiking? Is he walking?"
Yes. I'm hitching. I'm walking. In states where the cops are cracking down on hitching, I try to find alternate modes of transportation, like taking public busses, which I hate. Taking public transportation makes my trip seem fake and as soon as it's no longer necessary, I'll leave the busses behind and get back to stomping the pavement and holding my thumb in the wind. I'm also walking quite a bit. I've had a blister on top of a blister, which I didn't know was possible and I've blown out my right ankle, twice. But I'm walking and I'm loving it.

"What if he gets mugged?"
Then I get mugged. I'll lose some cash, probably about $8 which is about the most I carry on me. If the guy has a gun, I'll give him what he wants. If he has a knife or comes at me with his fists, I'll almost feel sorry for him. The cash I have won't pay for his medical bills and my kukri will dispense more damage than I can pay for.

"He's crazy. Why would anyone want to do that?"
Because I can, damn it. Because there's a hole inside me that must be filled and this is the only way to fill it. I'm missing something and out here I can find it. It's so close I can feel it. Besides, who wouldn't want to see south Louisiana, Montgomery and Birmingham, Scranton, Boston and Providence for less than $300? Who wouldn't want to see Narragansett Bay or the place where Rosa Parks was taken off the bus? Who wouldn't want to eat in the oldest tavern in the country? Who wouldn't want to make a dozen new friends in three weeks? Who wouldn't want to fulfill their dreams? I'm doing it because I want to and I don't want to be that person who sits around at the age of 80 and says "I wish I had done this or that when I was younger." In short, I don't want to be the kind of person who says "He's crazy. Why would anyone want to do that?" Because that's the kind of person I pity.

"What's he doing about... food, water, shelter?"
So far I've never been more than a day's walk away from an establishment where I can purchase some kind of food. Hell, I'm not sure if it's possible in the eastern half of the country to be more than a day's walk away. I can carry enough food in my pack to last two weeks, if not more.
Water is easy. Every building in the country has running water and most have a faucet outside. Even if they remove the knob, I can still open the valve with my multi-tool. Go ahead, ask me how I know this.
I have a small emergency shelter that has kept me dry when it rains, and for the first two weeks, it rained almost every day.

"What if something happens to him?"
Then it happens. Lots of things have happened to me. I had my travel journal, my most precious possession, stolen from me. I'm still alive, though, so I moved on. I pushed forward and bought a new journal and wrote down everything I could recall. If something else happens, I'll continue moving forward until my trip is done. If I die, I'll be dead. The cops will look at my ID and call my family. If my ID is gone, I have a tattoo of my social security number on my hip. They'll see that and call my family.

More on the Walkabout.
I discovered something about my trip and myself while walking. This happened early on and it's still happening. Going walkabout has certain mental health benefits. Walking all these miles, living simply, going by a natural schedule of eating when hungry and sleeping when tired, leaving everything behind, it strips away layers and layers of crap that we call "life". It breaks you down and grinds you to a pulp. It's difficult and it hurts. You can feel yourself breaking, little by little, until you look inward and realize that there's nothing left. Everything has been stripped away. All the details that once made up your life have fallen away. Your habits, your desires, your ambitions, your pet peeves, your friends, your debts, your love, your hate, your routine, it's all gone. All that's left is you. Raw, clean, fresh, whole, you see the foundation of yourself. You see who you really are, what you're made of. You see your strengths and weaknesses. You see the things you should be ashamed of and the things you should take pride in. You see what's important and what's trivial. You see yourself as you really are and you see what's missing.

Then, with all those extra pieces set aside, you can take inventory of your life and decide what you will keep and what you will discard. You can see where you need to grow. You can see what things in life were holding you back. You can move forward with life on your own path without outside influences. You can begin to reconstruct yourself how you see fit, not how society would have you become. You can purge that which is not important.

The whole process is painful, but wonderful. I'm more healthy, physically and mentally, now than I have been in years. I've grown so much in three weeks I hardly recognize myself. I've changed. I've evolved. I've strengthened. I have more confidence because I've had a taste of what I can do and it's more than I had imagined. I've faced some of the most difficult situations and challenges of my life in only 24 days and I've come out better than when I went in. I've limped 16 miles in a single day. I've had my life threatened. I've lost that which I hold most dear. I've left behind that which I love. I've lost my way. I've broken down. I've cried. I've been rained on. I've been cursed at. I've had garbage thrown at me. I've wished I was home.

I've also seen the sun rise over the treetops. I've seen clear, blue waves crash against a rocky shore. I've hugged children. I've been shown kindness. I've travelled from Birmingham, AL to Scranton, PA in less than 24 hours without spending a dime. I've made new friends. I've driven a go cart through a neighborhood. I've lost weight. I've found my way. I've grown up. I've grown stronger. I've seen green leaves turn gold. I've eaten authentic New England clam chowder. I've made people smile. And most importantly, I've learned that all it takes to live a dream is the ability to put one foot in front of the other until you get there.

That's why I'm doing this.

Any more questions?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Your Dreams: Realized


Recently I read an email from back home in which I learned that so many people were talking about my trip. I was told that me, doing this trip and being out here in places I've never seen before was inspiring people. People that I know were talking about how they suddenly wanted to travel, wanted to finish something they'd left incomplete or to just try something new.

That's such an amazing thing, to have that deep yearning to go out and do something new. It's such a powerful, raw emotion. It's inspiring. It's motivating. It's your fuel that drives you to accomplish great things. But just experiencing that emotion, understanding that you have a dream and wanting to see that dream become a reality is not enough. It's only the beginning. Wanting to do something is the easiest thing in the world. Knowing what you want to do and having that desire will only get you so far... and then you're stuck. If dreaming is all you do, you'll never leave your living room.

You have to take that energy that fills you and focus it into planning. You have to choose a direction and chart a course. You have to calculate and plot and figure out how to get from where you are right now to where you need to be. It could be long-distance travel, it could be taking up a new hobby, or simply finishing that project that you started last year. But if all you do is think about it, it will all remain unfinished.

Please, anyone who is reading this blog who has felt inspired by my trip to do something new and exciting and adventurous, don't leave it as a desire. Make some plans, organize your finances and figure out what you need to do to realize your dreams. And once you've done that, set the ball rolling. Start making preparations today. Start gearing up for whatever it is you're planning to do. Start saving money and getting in shape or taking knitting lessons or whatever it is you need to accomplish your goal. Make a bucket list and jump headlong into the biggest, most ambitious thing on it.

One day, sooner than you realize, you will die. And on that day there will be no time for another cup of coffee with your grandmother, sewing lessons, a trip to the Grand Canyon, skydiving, a cross-country road trip or a vacation to the Bahamas. If you haven't done what you desire to do, there will only be time for regret.

Don't be that person who faces death and says "I wish I had done that when I was younger."

Your time to act is growing shorter whether you use that time or not. When your life comes to its inevitable close, will you look back on it with regret or will you smile at the dreams you realized?

Providence to Boston and back to Providence


After several days of exploration in Providence and the surrounding area I hopped a commuter rail up to Boston ($7.75) and started exploring a city I'd heard so many great things about. I checked out China Town and ate some tasty treats there but discovered that I like Americanized Chinese more than authentic Chinese. Call me a sinner, but I feel that food should be enjoyed and if you don't enjoy something there's no sense in pretending you do just because it's more authentic than the alternative. You're only cheating yourself. Not that the food was bad, it's just that I'd rather eat General Chicken than Chicken Feet if given a choice.

There's some nice architecture up in Boston and some really beautiful old churches, but the big difference between Boston and Providence is the people. In Providence everyone is open and friendly and willing to strike up a conversation with you, even more so than Montgomery. In Boston, no one talks. People look straight ahead and march. They nod if you greet them, but there's no verbal response. The entire place seemed so much colder as far as people went. They weren't rude, they just didn't care to talk. I found this to be the case all over the Boston area including Wellseley and Cambridge.

I got to see the Harvard campus which is kind of a strange place. It looks like a nice university but the section of town it's in appears rather run down. It's like Harvard thrived and the city around it died. It just seemed out of place.

The roads in Boston are horrible. There's cracks and potholes everywhere. It's the only place I've seen with worse roads than Louisiana. They're terrible and the only thing worse is the drivers. NO ONE IN BOSTON CAN DRIVE! They drift from lane to lane, oblivious of other vehicles on the road. They stay in the left lane when they need to turn right and then they just turn, nearly causing wrecks. They almost run down cyclists every few minutes. They lounge around intersections when the light is green and then gun it through red lights. It's like all the rules of the road are just polite suggestions that Bostonians never heard. It's worse than Houston traffic. It's worse than Austin traffic. It's worse than anything. At least in Houston those 50 billion people have a general idea of how to drive. In Boston, no. It's like half the drivers are children who can't see over the wheel and the other half are blind... and drunk.

I also checked out the MIT Museum. If you get a chance to go there, go. And it's free on Sundays. The place is action-packed with cool stuff like little electronic devices that were wired by viruses using nanotechnology and odd little machines that do strange things. The coolest things were the robots and the AI. The people at MIT are really smart or really stupid because they're going to build the robots that become self-aware and take over the world and I don't think it's going to take them long... if the zombies don't get us first.

There was also this cool chick named Allie who was working with a team of people to develop the next generation of space suit. It looks wicked-awesome. I asked her tons of questions about it because I find that sort of thing cool. The idea behind a lot of it seems like science fiction, but I know that it'll probably be in use before I'm 50. That's just the way that science fiction works, like all the crazy stuff mentioned in that book 'Ender's Game' back in the early 70's. He talked about touch screens, computer tablets, chat rooms, virtual reality simulations, flight simulators and laser tag. And now it's all old news.

I left Boston on Monday afternoon and returned to Providence. I really like this city and I'm going to spend a lot of time here on future trips. It's a really great place. I'm currently staying with two guys named Derek and Nathan who showed me the Lincoln Woods State Park. It's a beautiful patch of the world just north of Providence. There's rocky woods, sassafras trees and maple. Their leaves already turning red and gold. A large pond on the southern end of the park has several small, rocky-shored islands. It's quite scenic. But everywhere I looked, every time I tried to take a photo of the natural splendor, the view was broken by a road or a sign or a building or a line of boulders carefully arranged by the park service. Why do we feel we need to conquer nature? Why do we set aside a patch of land to be preserved and then tear down the trees to build a field so people can play frisbee with their dogs? Why to we have to damage what we claim to enjoy?

I tried to just enjoy the park, but I wanted so badly to pull up all the signs and tear down the buildings and let nature fix what man had ruined. My relaxing walk in the park ended up leaving me in a bitter mood. I was angry.

Maybe a race of robots from MIT bent on human annihilation is just what the earth needs. Perhaps they would be more responsible with regards to their home than we have been. They certainly couldn't be any worse. Is it wrong for me to think like that? If so, I don't really care. And if you saw that park and it's marred beauty, like an abuse child, you'd feel the same way.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Apples and Clams


While walking across Providence in a desperate attempt to get to a Best Buy so I could find out if someone was going to put me up for the night, I strolled through the rain for God-only-knows how many miles. On my walk, while drenched and drowning in the unrelenting downpour, I emerged from beneath an overpass to see numerous apples rotting on the sidewalk beside Rhode Island Hwy 2. If they had all been the same size or in the same state of decay, I'd have assumed they had been tossed out. But they weren't. I looked up and beheld an apple tree.

After setting down my pack I plodded up the hill and selected a nice, mostly ripe apple. It was quite tasty and scrumptious. I had never picked an apple before and if I hadn't been forced to walk across Providence to Warwick, I wouldn't have had that experience.

With the apple consumed, I tossed the core at the base of the tree and moved on to eventually find Best Buy and post the blog that went up the other day.

I spent most of today walking around Newport, taking photos of houses that are almost 300 years old, but the highlight of my day by far was eating clam chowder in White Horse Tavern. Built in 1673 as a home and converted to a tavern in 1730, it's the oldest tavern in the country. The bar and dining area is let my candles and oil lamps because there's no electrical wiring. The cash register is hooked up to an extension cord.

The bartender, a guy named Aryn, was extremely interested in my travels and shared with me stories of his time working on yachts and traveling with them. The chowder was great, the atmosphere was rich and the staff friendly. On top of that, I was eating in a tavern that was serving people drinks more than 40 years before this country was founded.

Thanks for the chowder, Aryn. And thanks for taking my picture at the bar. I'm going to hang on to that one.

I'd like to tell you all about my wonderful experiences in the Providence area, but eventually I have to sleep. All I can say for now is that the downtown district was designed to make your jaw drop. If you come up here, bring extra batteries and memory cards for your camera.

Take it easy everyone and thanks for following. Let's see where I end up next.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Two Things To Find

Everyone is searching for something because no one is ever truly complete. We can only push ourselves closer. I took this trip knowing that something was missing and being on the road where the complexities of life are stripped away and only my raw self remains has shown me what is missing. There are two things that I'm currently searching for. One is something that I have owed to myself for years, the other is a better understanding of something that I already knew.

I'm surprised that I learned what it was that I was looking for so quickly. With each passing day I come closer to understanding that which I need a better understanding of.

I've seen so much in the past two weeks. I've traveled through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Connecticuit, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. I've seen more in these last two weeks than on years of vacations.

My trip might not last a year, but I won't try to guess now how long it will last. It'll be done when it's done, and I guess I'll know when that is.

But now I feel I'm one huge step closer.

Made It... Sort Of...

So Wednesday I woke up bound and determined to make it from Montgomery, Alabama all the way to Providence, Rhode Island before October. 1,300 miles of interstate stretched before me and I didn't have a ride, but my determination won out... for the most part. 20 miles of walking, 7 hitches, 2 semi trucks, 1 hour in a Pennsylvania State Police car, a short bus ride and a robbery later, I'm sitting in Providence, Rhode Island.

The cop, one Officer Powell, who picked me up for walking on the interstate (which is illegal in Pennsylvania), didn't write me a ticket. Instead, he searched for a way for me to get to my destination without breaking any more laws and even drove me 40 miles up the road where I could continue my journey. Thanks Officer Powell.

To avoid arrest, I took a bus from Hazleton,PA to Rhode Island and had a 1 hour layover in New York. While waiting for my bus to arrive, some random ass-hat snatched my carry-on bag which was 2 feet away from me. I chased him for about 2 blocks down Amsterdam Avenue until my bad ankle blew out (again). I limped back, short one novel (On The Road by Jack Kerouac), a pen, a scrap of paper that had the name and phone number of a guy who was going to give me a place to crash when I arrived in Providence, a camera case (empty) and most importantly my journal which containes every detail of my trip thus far.

So, my log of everything I've done, everyone I've met, and everything I've felt on my most important adventure is gone, lost in the streets of New York, probably in a dumpster on Amsterdam Avenue.

I'll try to remember everything that was in it, but I know that so much information is lost and will never be retrieved. That journal was the most important thing I had and this setback is by far the worst.

I'll see if I can find a place to crash in Providence. They're running all the homeless people out because they errected some massive tent city downtown, so sleeping on the streets is now impossible.

Let's see where my adventure takes me next.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Montgomery, Alabama

Made it to Montgomery the other day and it's a stark change from Mobile. The ass-hats of that town are not to be found here, at least not in any of the places I've been thus far. When I hitched a ride into town and was dropped off near a coffee shop, an employee who was setting up outdoor tables said "grab a chair, backpacker." Those were the first words spoken to me by a Montgomery resident. I enjoyed being called a backpacker. It's a far cry from "f#@&ing bum" which was all I heard in Mobile.

Being treated like a sub-human for those two days took an unexpected toll on me mentally. It wasn't a pleasant experience at all. There were a few exceptions, like the three girls who were nice to me. Laura, Donna and Caroline, thanks for treating me like a human being when so many others cursed me for asking directions or threatened to arrest me for walking on the sidewalk.

Montgomery is turning out to be a pretty cool place. The downtown area is really nice and full of historical points of interest, most of which are civil-rights oriented. I got to see where Rosa Parks got on the bus and where Martin Luther King ended his march, as well as a house he lived in. I've also seen the Confederate White House where Jeff Davis lived. The Hank Williams museum is there. I took a trolley ride all over the downtown area for 50 cents. They point out all the historical places along the way. I rode it a couple times just to be sure.

The whole Montgomery area seems to have more warmth, culture and charm. I really like it here, so I don't regret staying a few extra days to nurse a sore ankle. I'm staying with a guy I met on couchsurfing.org, a website for travelers that helps people travel cheaper while meeting people with similar interests. It seems like a really cool idea and I look forward to hosting travelers after my trip is finished.

The weather cleared up a little. Yesterday was the first day since a week before my trip began that it didn't rain. I was beginning to think I should have taken a boating trip instead of a walking one.

Not sure how much longer I'll be in Montgomery, probably just one more day, then I'll move on. I'll either head up to Birmingham or over to Atlanta, and then make my way into North Carolina. I have a lot of that area to explore and I might spend a month doing it. After that, toward the end of October, I'll see how the weather is and figure out where to go from there.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Hardest Thing

I'm in some town called Alabaster, north of Montgomery. It's raining here, again, just like everywhere in Alabama. It rains twice a day and sometimes it sneaks in a third storm in the middle of the night to catch me off guard. That's alright, though, I'm prepared. I have a sunburn, but it's starting to brown. My blisters are turning to callouses and my legs are toughening up. I'm not eating as much as I thought, which is both good and bad. It's good in that my food budget will last longer and I can divert some funds to my fun budget. Also, I can afford to splurge and eat a meal that isn't as bland as rice and chicken, rice and sausage or rice and mashed potatoes. Did I mention that I'm eating a lot of rice?

A lot of things are tough, like carrying a pack up the side of an overpass with a sore ankle or walking five more miles to the next exit because a pair of crackhead bums at the last exit got tired of snorting coke and decided to give you crap instead and you have to threaten their lives with a bigger than shit knife to get them to back off. Or realizing that you have a blister that formed on top of an existing blister (that's going to be one hell of a callous). But all those things seem to fade into the background once my feet hit the pavement again and I start making more progress. That all just becomes part of the experience and either becomes a blur or enriches the travel memories.

What's really difficult, worse than those things and then some, is not existing. Toting a pack and being a little dirty makes one somehow not human. The guys who curse you for being a burden to the society for asking directions to the interstate, the snot-nosed brats driving Daddy's car who yell at you and even throw shit at you while hitching, the couples who suddenly pause their conversations while passing you and continue walking all tensed up as if I'm a rabid dog on a long leash, and all the dozens of people who keep their eyes focused on some distant object as they walk, praying I won't speak to them as they pass, that is what makes this trip difficult. The feeling of being a person who has slipped through the cracks, one who is no longer a person at all, of being completely alone and no longer a member of the race is worse than missing my friends and family, worse than the blisters and sunburns, worse than the tired legs or the threat of being arrested. It's worse than the driving rain and the midday heat, and mosquitoes at night. It's worse than the heavy pack. Somehow, it's even worse than missing my girlfriend. It's worse than all that combined.

I have a newfound respect and sympathy for those who have truly fallen through. Those who have lost their way and lost their homes. Next time you pass a homeless person, smile and look their way. You have no idea how much a simple glance means until you find yourself in a state of being in which you no longer exist.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

From Chalmette to Mobile

Steve and Josh dropped me off outside of Chalmette and it didn't take long for a kind woman named Miranda to pick me up off the side of the road. Her and her husband had spotted me and made an illegal U-turn to double back and then made another to pick me up. They took me over Lake Ponchatrain and into Slidell. We rocked out to some classic rock (CCR) and Kid Rock's 'All Summer Long'. This really lifted my spirits and got me into the mood for more travel. They dropped me off at a truck stop and I slept under some trees until the heat of the day had passed. Then it was back to I-10 where I was immediately picked up by a 350 lb. transexual named Lynn. He/she was in full drag, including a red dress, clear heels, and a Cher wig. He talked about hiking the Appalachain Trail when he was younger. Now he's a 47 year old man who is one surgery away from being a 47 year old woman. He's trying to get a job as a chef/chefette, but says that for now his occupation is to "entertain truckers". I didn't ask for an explanation.

He/she dropped me off in Mobile, Alabama. Mobile is a strange place and if you're into hitching, DON'T GO TO MOBILE! The cops are first-grade assholes. One picked me up this morning when I was asking him directions. He put me in the car, drove me to I-10 and told me to get out of town or he'd arrest me for public intoxication. I told him I wasn't a bum, but he didn't care. I snuck back into town to refill some water bottles and was immediately harrassed by another cop. He pulled pretty much the same stunt, though he didn't specify any charges. Many of the people here are rude as shit. I asked a man if he could tell me what road I was on (Mobile lacks street signs) and he barked at me. On the flipside, on two separate occasions, once last night and once today, very attractive young women have simply walked up to me and handed me money. The first was outside of Wal-Mart. I was waiting for the rain to stop last night so I could get to the overpass to sleep. A cute girl named Donna walked up and handed me $8. I refused, telling her that I wasn't destitute and explained my trip to her. She insisted and eventually won the argument. Then, just about an hour ago while eating at "Steak and Shake", my waitress, Caroline, gave me $5. Again, I explained the situation and again she insisted that I take it to help with my journey. I gave her this website and left the money with her tip.

I'm currently in Best Buy on Airport Blvd and I-65. I'm going to look for a place to crash tonight if I can't hitch to Montgomery. Hitching around here seems a little more difficult than in Louisiana. Come to think of it, the nicest people I've met in Mobile were the three bums that greeted me when I arrived under an overpass last night. Eddie and Jerry were warm, friendly hosts who had known each other for about five minutes when I showed up. I didn't catch the other guy's name. I told them about my trip and they praised me for it. We chatted for a few hours before retiring for the night. They gave me some pointers for living on the road and saw me off this morning when I took off.

Signing out for now, but I'll be back soon.

Friday, September 18, 2009

HITCHING AND SLEEPING

Left from home on Tuesday,and hiked across town on the pipeline, then up Cities Service Hwy and slept under the overpass. There was a drunk homeless guy that showed up in the middle of the night, but he didn't give me any problems. He was pretty cool when I talked to him Wednesday morning. From there, I hiked along I-10 into Westlake and then took the train tracks over the lake where an operator got pissed at me for crossing. He kept yelling for me to come back and face his wrath,but I just kept on walking. It was at this point that my cousin, who had been walking with me, finally turned around and went home. That's when the realization of my solitude really kicked in. Those first steps alone were the most difficult.

I made it to Enterprise Blvd, and was picked up by a former coworker (thanks Becky) who drove me to Welsh. I kept walking, intent on making it to Jennings before midnight. Sometime during the night I found that after walking for over twenty miles with that heavy pack in some intense heat, I was ready to collapse. I took an hour nap beneath the Mile 61 marker on I-10. I then slept in a field until 6:30. I walked into Jennings and hung around for a bit, sleeping through the heat of the day. Then I thumbed for a ride and got picked up by a Mr. Griffin (father of Minnesota Vikings' lineman Cedric Griffin, he has a ton of his son's cards and autographed photos in his truck) who drove me nearly to Baton Rouge. A few minutes later, I was picked up by two friendly guys (Steve and Josh) who drove me to their shop in Chalmette where they operate a cement works business. I got a shower and managed to get my clothes washed.

I figured that hitching would be difficult for a bearded skinhead, but I'm finding it's the exact opposite. I thought that it would take a month to get across the state. Looks like I'll be in Mississippi for the weekend. Let's see what tomorrow brings.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Knit Cap


Every adventurer needs an adventure hat, one that can keep the rain and sun off the head, and I have had mine for over 2 years now. It's a kangaroo leather outback hat that I ordered from an Australian manufacturer for use on backpacking trips. But many people, especially those whose heads are actually adorned with hair, tend to ignore the other type of adventure hat, the kind designed to keep the skull warm on those snowy days.

Just today a package arrived in the mail with just such a hat. A few months ago, my girlfriend contacted Meredith Kubricki at Fair Trade Knitters and inquired about a custom designed knit cap. The requirements were simple; natural color, tight knit, rugged and warm. Within a few days the design and material was pinned down. The style was very plain, more function than flair, and the yarn was spun from American Bison hair. This yarn was suggested for it's softness and durability.

As soon as the details were established, the order was placed and some kind woman in Ecuador began knitting my adventure cap. Several weeks later, we received an email from Meredith informing us that the cap was complete and it would be shipped to me soon. Now, with the cap in hand (or rather, on head) I understand what they meant by the softness of Bison fur. I always figured bison to be coarse creatures, but their yarn apparently is quite comfortable (thanks Mr. Bison). The cap as a whole is a pleasure to wear and the Ecuadorean woman did a fine job in knitting it.

Check out their site at Fair Trade Knitters and their new site at 1855wool.com

Monday, August 24, 2009

That Is All I Do

"The common miracles, the murmur of my friends at evening, the clayfires of smudgy juniper, the coarse, dull food, the hardship and simplicity, the contentment of doing one thing at a time: when I take my blue tin cup into my hand, that is all I do." That is one of my favorite travel quotes because, though it may seem vague, it speaks volumes as to why we venture out into the wilds.

When Peter Matthiessen picks up his cup on an expedition, he isn't casually lifting a glass of water as he would in his home because the things we do in the wild, similar in mechanics as they may be, are not done the same as when we in a domestic setting.

At home, if one is hungry, he may cook a meal, as his wife to warm up some left-overs, run down to McDonalds and grab a burger, or purchase something that can be heated in the microwave. The life-sustaining act of eating becomes a casual exercise that is merely done before we rush off to the rat race where we are in constant hurry to be someplace else. But in the wilds, in those dark, quiet places where man-made objects cannot be found, eating a meal is done to maintain strength, to keep us healthy, to survive and to slake our savage hunger. In the wilds, a simple meal means so much more because the act of eating carries so much more weight and importance. We do not eat and drink for pleasure or entertainment or fashion. We do it to keep ourselves alive. The act is simplified and reverted to its most primal level.

In the wilds, everything we do plays an important part on our experience. Each step can become a success or a disaster, depending on how our foot lands. We move away from the tiring, meaningless racket of the modern daily experiences into the setting where men, as a race, came from. The tame world challenges us in all the wrong ways and we can't live like that for long. We can't empty our minds and souls properly with all that racket. To do so we must find a quiet place and do things that hold meaning.

So when I pick up a blue tin cup to take a drink, that is all I will be doing.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A New Toy


One of the things I needed for my trip was a good, sturdy knife. I didn't want just any old fixed-blade cutting tool, but something with a little heft, a durable blade, and a lot of character. If I have to build a shelter in the woods, I wanted something capable of chopping through saplings without much trouble. I wanted a knife that could take the kind of abuse I'm going to dish out. I also wanted something I could defend myself with in case some lunatic decides to mug me.

Fortunately for me, I have a wicked-awesome girlfriend who also likes blades and thinks that custom birthday presents are the coolest things ever. Just before sitting down for breakfast this morning, she comes into the kitchen and places in my hand a gift, wrapped in what appeared to be butcher's paper with strange quotes printed on it, such as "Aayo Ghurkali" (the Ghurka's war cry 'The Ghurkas are upon you').

From this sinister bundle I pulled a custom made khukuri, a curved knife that's a cross between a skinning blade, a machete and a hatchet. It's designed to slice, chop, pry and the back of the blade even serves as a hammer. I've used a cheap one before, and though it was small and flimsy, it chopped like a machete. But this blade that I held at the breakfast table was no cheap, flimsy knife. This was a sturdy, menacing cutting tool.

The khukuri (at least the ones from khukuri house) are individually hand crafted, forged from the leaf springs from old trucks. The sheath, a green leather thing with a belt loop, is made from buffalo hide. Both the khukuri and the sheath are built to last, as is evident from their appearance and sturdiness.

The handle, a rosewood replacement for the unavailable buffalo horn, is thick and comfortable in my hand. It's been expertly shaped and feels like it belongs in my grasp. The tool looks primitive, and it is. It's a design that has been unchanged for hundreds of years. It's a farmer's tool and a hunter's tool. It's for expedition and defense. It has character and class, and in the hills of Nepal, some barefoot blacksmith is already at work on another one. It has a history already, and it has a future. Soon it will accompany me on an adventure.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

F.A.Q.

Frequently Asked Questions


I've been getting tons of questions so I figured I'd post an FAQ blog to answer the most common and a few of the more bizarre.

Where are you going?
I don't know. When I leave my house in Sulphur, LA, I'm not sure yet if I'll turn left or right. I'm going to aim East, but would not be surprised if I end up in Oregon. The only destination that's set in stone is home. My trip will finish right where it started, but I'm not sure where I'll go while traveling. I guess it's wherever the road takes me.

Why are you doing this?
Simply because I want to. I feel the need to explore for a prolonged period of time and see what I can see. There's no deeper meaning, there's no religious significance, I'm not running from the law (I've been asked that one before), and I'm not terminally ill (I was asked that one also). I just want to do it and have wanted to for nearly a decade.

What will you do for food?
There are towns out there and in those towns are grocery stores. I've seen them. I've even been in a few. I'll purchase food as needed.

How long will you be gone?
If my math is correct (I'm terrible at math, so it's probably wrong), my trip should last roughly 1 year. That's what I've budgeted for. If I see what I need to see and feel the urge to come home earlier, then that's what will happen. If the trip runs long, it will run long. I don't have any reservations at hotels, so my plans can be quite fluid. I can go wherever I want, whenever I want.

How will you live?
Like a vagrant, I guess. I've found that sleeping under overpasses is quite comfortable (even during major hurricanes) and camping in the woods is fun and relaxing. I'll do a lot of that. I won't have a schedule except for the schedule my body sets. I'll eat when I'm hungry and sleep when I'm tired. I'll wake up when I'm rested and stop walking when I need a break.

Are you taking anyone with you?
No. This is a solo trip for me and me alone. Period. I'm leaving everyone and everything behind save for what can be carried comfortably on my back. Having someone walking with me would influence my decisions and alter my course.

You'll have your cell phone, right?
No I will not. I'm only taking three electronic devices: a cheap watch, a flashlight, and a small digital camera with a battery charger. The watch is solely for me to be able to check the date before writing in a journal. I probably won't even adjust it when crossing time zones. I don't want to be in constant communication and I'm not going to add an extra expense to the trip.

What about a GPS?
No GPS. No iPhone. No navigational gear. I'm going to explore the country by exploring it for myself. I'm not going to look up destinations in advance and chart a course a hundred miles in advance. I'm not even taking a map. If I hear about something interesting in an area, I'll get directions then.

What if you get lost?
In town, I'll ask for directions to the nearest grocery store so I can get food. Then I'll find train tracks and hike out. If I'm in the wilderness, I'm not lost. I don't get lost in the woods. Never have.

But what if you do?
You can't really be lost in the woods. Not in North America and especially not in the eastern half of the country. If you walk in one direction, you'll find a road and that will lead to something. Unfortunately there aren't many wild places anymore. I won't get lost in the woods.

Don't you have a girlfriend? How can you leave her?
Painfully. This trip is the most important thing in my life right now and if I didn't go, for any reason, it would be the worst betrayal of myself possible. I have to go and unfortunately that means that I have to leave certain people behind that I'd rather not, but that's the way life is sometimes. Each step I take will be one more step away from the people I care about and that will be the most difficult thing about this trip.

When are you coming back?
I should arrive back in Sulphur in the fall of 2010, but so much of the trip will be uncertain to even me until it happens, that I can't predict an exact arrival date. I guess I'll be back when I'm back.

Are you going to write about the trip?
I'm going to keep a journal of my travels and occasionally find a way to get online and post an update. Once I return, I will indeed write a book about my walkabout adventure.

What if you die?
Uh, I'll be dead. If I die, either by foolish accident or by malicious intent, it will be easy for the authorities to identify my body and contact my family. My Social Security Number is tattooed on my left hip below the waist line in big, bold print. I won't be a John Doe. If I die and find out about the light at the end of a tunnel or anything else pertaining to the afterlife, I'll be sure to post a blog about it and I'll include a spoiler warning.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

I'm About to Die

Apparently imminent death is the only thing that justifies long-term travel. Yesterday, while looking at maps of Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee, someone asked what I was doing. When I told her about my trip she asked "did you find out you're about to die?"

How can people be so caught up in the mundane tasks of daily life that they can't imagine taking some time out to explore? In fact, most people I've talked to can't even comprehend the idea of exploration. They ask me what there is to explore. Perhaps they've seen the entire world and assume that I have also. Unfortunately, that's not the case. I have seen very little of the world and I believe that the people who can't comprehend my desire to explore will see far less than I will.

It's difficult to explain my motives to these people. They ask where I'm going and I tell them that I'll go wherever the road takes me. Then they ask "why?" I feel like I'm trying to explain the color of the sky to a blind man, and in a sense, that's exactly what I'm doing. To some people the idea of doing something unpredictable and adventuresome is so alien that it doesn't compute. Sort of like Calculus.

When the girl asked if I was about to die, my reply was quick and to the point. "Why would I wait until I am about to die to start living?" She said that she'll travel... one day. Maybe.

I doubt she ever will.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Wanderlust

Where am I going? That is the question that I am asked most and no one can comprehend the idea that I have no answer to that question. I am not walking for miles and miles every day to get to a destination. I have no destination, only a desire to explore and to see what is out there with my own eyes, on my own terms. I want to see the world for myself instead of traveling to a certain destination with a preconceived notion of what it should be like. There are no travel brochures for my trip and there is no itinerary. I do not want a package deal, all expenses paid. I want a raw adventure.

For me the destination matters so little that I don't even have one. I'm going east because I've never really traveled east before except for spending the weekend in Daytona while Hurricane Hannah was throwing a tantrum. I've been north as far as Missouri and west as far as New Mexico, but not really east. And even though I'm going to start walking east, I would not be surprised to find myself in Seattle or Portland.

The walkabout trip is for the purpose of satisfying my need to explore, to quench my wanderlust. If something looks or sounds interesting, I'll set off in that direction. If I find something more interesting along the way and detour, I will not feel bad. If I miss a thousand landmarks and fail to see a thousand sights, I will not be disappointed because I will have been doing exactly what I wanted at that time. I will do what is most important at that time. Nothing more. Nothing less.

And if I find myself in a place that no longer interests me, then I'll move on. Likewise, if the trip becomes a bore or I feel that my heart is no longer in it, I will turn around and go home, because that too will be the right decision at the time.


A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.
~Lao Tzu

Monday, April 27, 2009

What I'm Leaving Behind

So I've listed what all I'm taking. Now I'll talk about what I'm leaving behind. Originally my departure was supposed to be simple. I was going to set out on my adventure with my pack and my dog. The two of us were going to explore as we had done numerous times before. But life has a way of changing the playbook without first consulting me.

First came the realization that I would be nearly overloaded with gear already and taking along even a 10 lb. bag of dogfood would be impossible. I couldn't find a way to tote the extra weight. Also, my dog (a black lab and basset hound mix) has short legs, making prolonged walks strenuous on him. More than just a few miles per day would be too much for him. I really enjoy adventuring with Rocco, the spastic little animal, but this adventure would be too much for him. Regretfully I had to make the decision to leave him behind. It breaks my heart to think about walking away from him, but I have to. I just wish that on the nights when I don't return home, that he would have a way of understanding why I left and that I would eventually return.

Next is my family and friends. A motley crew of random individuals that make up the group I enjoy associating with. Some think the idea of me going on such a trip is awesome. They wish me luck and ask how preparations are going. Some issue stern warnings of the dangers of the great outdoors or homeless people or serial killers that might make me their next victim. A couple have told me that spending that much time and money traveling and leaving my career for a year is a serious mistake. One I will come to regret later. These people, those who encourage and those who doubt, will be sorely missed when I'm abroad. My closest friends and certain family members have a way of brightening my day and turning any situation into the object of comedic relief. I will miss their amusing antics most of all while walking alone.

Last but certainly not least is my girlfriend. I enjoyed her company from the time we first met but we were both too wrapped up with writing projects to spend any real time together. Over the next year, we grew closer, but I had already made my decision to spend a year traveling. Starting a relationship made absolutely no sense at all. But decisions aren't always ours to make. The more I tried to avoid liking her, the more I found myself spending time with her until finally, a little over a year after we first met, I found myself dating again. Now, nearly six months into our relationship, I'm beginning to see my departure date looming on the horizon. Something that was previously an opportunity of hope and change, seems to be transfigured into something altogether worrisome. I knew I would have to make sacrifices to take this trip; I just didn't think this would be one I would have to make. I started a relationship that I knew would have an expiration date. It will be with a heavy heart indeed that I take those first steps in September.

So that is what I will be leaving behind. In addition to those individuals will be a couple boxes of personal items that I cannot replace. Everything else will be sold or donated or trashed.

Monday, April 13, 2009

"I Wish I Could Do That"

"I wish I had the balls to do that."

That's what a friend recently said when he heard about my trip. My jaw nearly hit the floor. When talking about having the nerve to do something, mustering the courage, there's no way this guy in particular should be looking up to me. He's a cage fighter. Seriously. He participates in Mixed Martial Arts fights. So how does he not have the balls to take an extended vacation?

The answer is simple. It's unconventional and unknown. Taking a trip is easy if we have reservations at a motel beforehand. If we know where we're going, getting there is easier. It's somehow safer. We know what to expect and we think we can prepare for it.

But if we are going on a trip where there is no destination, where we don't know beforehand where we will sleep each night or how far we will travel each day, then the entire ordeal is clouded in uncertainty. What will we eat. Where will we sleep? What if it rains? What if it gets hot? Cold? Hurricane? Lions and tigers and bears? Oh my!

The mind has a difficult time coming up with plans and solutions to deal with the endless possibilities for disaster and the trip suddenly seams impossible. But those millions of things that can go wrong don't always go wrong and they certainly don't all go wrong at once.

Sure, it'll start raining while I'm traveling. And I'll deal with that when it happens. If it gets cold, I'll deal with that also.

Why do we tell ourselves that we can't do something? Why do we tell ourselves that we shouldn't even try? Instead of making an attempt, we resign ourselves to inactivity for fear of the potential failure or shortcoming. And when it's all said and done, we have failed ourselves without even trying.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Almost Left

I almost left one night. No warning. No planning. No preparation.

It was about a year ago. I had loaded my pack down with camping gear and hit the track, walking the lanes and climbing the bleachers until my legs burned. I was training for a backpacking trip. On my way home I was caught by a slow moving train. Sitting in my truck, watching the train cars roll by, I couldn't help but wonder where that train was going.

My pack was right there, loaded with gear, water, and even food. I had enough to last a week without setting foot in town. And there was the train, slow and easily accessible. In my truck's visor was over a thousand dollars. I had cashed some checks and hadn't paid bills yet.

When I say that I almost left one night, I don't mean that I looked at that train and considered hopping it. I mean that my pack was on my shoulders and I was standing in front of my truck, about to scribble a note to my parents. The keys were under the seat and the engine was off. I was about to hop a train. I wasn't sure where I would end up or how long I would be gone, only that I wouldn't come back until I had to. I would be gone as long as I had money and clothes and food.

I've always been afflicted with a wanderlust. It's an illness that cannot be cured. I have the hardest time turning around when I'm exploring. It's usually hunger or dehydration that brings me back.

Standing in the darkness beside that rolling train, I made the decision that I would leave, but not quite yet. I would be prepared. Properly prepared. I would have the funds to make the trip last much, much longer. I would do it right. And I would be conditioned to deal with whatever the adventure threw at me.

I'm almost there now. I've lost weight. I know how to eat cheap. I'm better in the woods now than ever before. I'm only $278 short on my $3,000 goal and I have most of the gear that I need. I'll be ready in September. And after the 15th, I dare a train to roll by as slowly as that last one did.