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.