Monday, November 16, 2009
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.