“What do you think about all day?”

Abby – 

One of the best (and worst) things about walking across America is it provides ample time to think. I am often asked how I pass the time on the road and what I think about along the way. I occasionally listen to podcasts, music, or books on tape, but most of the time I am just alone with my thoughts. Going into the walk I expected this to be a great opportunity for self-reflection and creative thinking. However, more often than I’d like to admit, that’s not the case. I haven’t come up with any solutions for world peace or climate change or figured out what I want to do with the rest of my life and where I want to live. Most of my everyday ponderings are usually banal and involve food.

 

  1. I get intense salt cravings and this can manifest into some strange food fantasies. I once killed an hour imagining myself with a giant bucket of french fries licking the salt off each one. Don’t ask my why I didn’t just eat the whole fry in this day dream; salt cravings never make me rational.
  2. Once on a really hot day I saw a billboard for an icey minute maid fruity slushy at McDonalds. Contrary to popular belief, McDonalds is not taking over the country and I had to walk a whole 72 hours before spotting the golden arches. Well you betcha I spent almost that entire time thinking about those slushies. I imagined swimming in pools and playing in water parks filled with them. I pictured myself ordering 3 of every flavor and lounging for hours in the air conditioned booth leisurely sipping each one.  I wondered about the intricacies of every flavor and what the largest size I could order it in would be.
  3. After starting the walk we sent back a lot of gear we didn’t need and very rarely have we bought new gear along the way. The one exception to this is our $5 fanny packs from Walmart. Let me tell you, this was a game changer and should be considered an essential piece of equipment by any long distance walker. I spent a lot of time thinking about why such a practical and useful item has a nerdy tourist dad reputation. I then occupied my thoughts creating my own designer fanny pack line, with the hopes of making fanny packs cool again. Maybe this will solve the what I want to do with my life question.
  4. One of the questions I most often ask Danny is “do you think the next town will have ice cream?” With limited cell service in the desert I can’t just look up the answer, so I spend a lot of time pondering this question. Sometimes I will play a little game with the cracks in the road; I’ll pick a point in the distance and then each crack I step on will rotate every other “town has ice cream,” or “town sucks.”  Whatever answer I land on at the point in the distance gives me my answer. It’s sort of like the game kids play when when they pluck petals off flowers and rotate “he loves me” or “he loves me not.” My game is about love too.
  5. The animal I most commonly see across the country are cows. These guys are real characters and without fault they always shoot us the fiercest death stare whenever we walk by. I have never seen an animal or human with a meaner mug.  I passed a lot of time in the Midwest making up a parody to Snoop Dog’s song “Drop it Like it’s Hot,” called “Mean Muggin’ Cows.” I made up the lyrics and then imaged Snoop and I frolicking in the pastures making a music video with the cows. Snoop, if you’re reading this, let me know if we can make this happen.

Danny – 

What do you think about all day? It’s something we’re frequently asked, and the answer is always unpredictable. Throughout the day, ideas drift in and out, internal debates and conversations continually start and daydreams of the most mundane or magnificent things begin.

All day? It’s mostly logistical things, like the weather, or the terrain, or whether we will find a shaded area to rest, or whether a full 9 person lineup of American musical artists  would beat a lineup from the U.K. Important things like that. In no order, Bob Dylan, Michael Jackson, Neil Young, Lou Reed, Ray Charles, Bruce,  Aretha, Stevie Wonder, and the Talking Heads. All apologies to Tony Orlando fans and 90’s children, but that is quite the murderer’s row. Does it beat The Beatles, David Bowie, The Clash, The Rolling Stones… you know what? It’s not even worth the argument. America wins. I didn’t even include Prince, LCD Soundsystem, or any other modern music. I’ve managed to convince myself of Biggie over Pac, Nas over them both, and, again, Tony Orlando over all. Thanks to the ten hours a day I spend in my own head, I’ve become quite the cultural critic, with no one to debate but myself.

Sometimes I think about Bucky Fuller and the Earth’s rotation. Bucky Fuller was an architect, an inventor, a scientist and an author. He developed numerous inventions and architectural designs, like the geodesic dome, but his biggest impact on me came from his unique understanding of the Earth. He believed words like “up” and “down” were terms that were developed in a time when the Earth was wrongly understood to be flat, and were inconsistent with the spherical nature of Earth (Sorry Kyrie, and all the flat-earthers). Rather than saying upstairs and downstairs, Fuller believed we should say “instairs” and “outstairs,” since stairs lead inward and outward in respect to the center of Earth. I really enjoy the simple alterations to speech that he offered, and try to use them to remind myself of the fact we’re on a massive rock flying through space. Every once in awhile I’ll remind Abby that, although we are walking three miles an hour westward across the United States, the Earth is actually spinning nearly 1000 mph in the opposite direction. Silly, I know, but it’s a fun mental exercise to occupy yourself with while you’re, like we said, walking three miles an hour for three straight weeks on the same road in the same direction.

Sometimes I fantasize about grandiose ideas of being a guest on Stephen Colbert, and reminding him, to his surprise, of the time we rubbed shoulders at a Neutral Milk Hotel concert, and I uncomfortably introduced myself to his wife. Sometimes I conjure up imaginary conversations with my friends in New York. I imagine writing a book of our experiences after the walk. I imagine, I imagine, I imagine, all day long. I use the soothing rasp of Marc Maron’s interviews to break the spell of my imagination, and then I imagine hearing the rasp in person, through his headphones, sitting at his table in his garage being interviewed.

I daydream about music and movies, food and king-sized beds. I focus on important things like our mileage and water supply, and the timeline until we finish. I think about the day we’ll finish, when we will cross the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco, walk the couple miles to the beach with our family and friends beside us, dive headfirst into the Pacific Ocean, celebrate and then fly home. With less than 700 miles to go, that’s the thought that most consumes me.

Green River to Salina – 110 miles of Utah desert

There’s been more difficult terrain. There will be less traveled roads. But the five days between Green River and Salina, Utah were what we expect to be the hardest stretch of our trip. 110 miles. 110 miles with no access to food, running water or gas stations. It was a 110 mile odyssey in the midst of our 3,200 mile walk. For many, that two hour drive between Green River and Salina can feel long, vacant and expansive. For us, it was a daunting challenge indicative of the last third of our trip through Nevada, and another reminder of the natural beauty of this country, and the incredible kindness of the strangers that populate it.

Water would be our biggest challenge for this trek. There were no gas stations, houses, or even streams along the way, and we would not be able to carry enough with us for the 5-6 days. In preparation for this, we found Americorps volunteers in Green River who generously offered to drop off water every 20 miles along the way on their drive out to a national park. However, even with careful preparation, things did not go as planned.

We arrived at the first rest stop at the San Rafael Swell outside of Green River at noon on our first day of walking. We dropped our gear, grabbed our food and water, and found the only shade in the area. Directly outside the outhouse. Not the best smelling place to sit by. We sat in the shade for the next five hours, awkwardly greeting every incoming tourist looking to tinkle with a grin and an explanation of why we were sitting where we were. Countless strangers gave us water, food and Gatorade. When we finally got to where our first water drop-off was, we were nervous to find that one of the two gallons we had requested was missing. Luckily, with all of the water we’d received at the rest stop earlier, we felt confident we would be okay.

We arrived at our second water drop at the Ghost Rock viewpoint and were a little worried again to find two gallons instead of three. With our extra supply from the day before, however, we again figured we would make it until the next drop. While setting up our tents on behind Ghost Rock on the side of the road, we were surprised to find someone already camped out; usually we are the only ones setting up on the side of the highway in the middle of nowhere. A man in his late thirties wearing a tye-dye shirt and flip flops emerged, equally surprised to see us. He told us he was doing a fast in the desert and had been camping throughout Utah during it. He asked us if we needed anything and gave us a friendly honk and wave when he passed us on the highway the next day. In the morning as we left, we met a man dropping his kids off at summer camp. He lived north of the area and left us with his phone number to contact him if we needed anything or had anymore trouble with water.

By day three, the 110 mile trek between services began to feel like a blur. It was our hottest day yet, and, although we were surrounded by beautiful Utah scenery, the long stretches of highway had begun blending together. It wasn’t until we reached our rest stop for the day that things came into focus. We climbed the hill up to the viewpoint of the Salt Wash, excited to use restrooms and for the water that awaited us. Again though, our water needs were not to be met. Someone had taken the two gallons the Americorps volunteers left for us, and, although we knew we could ask people for water, we were worried about dehydrating. Fortunately, as continually seems to happen on this trip, we met countless kind strangers, willing to assist us in any way they could. We met an older Canadian couple, motorcycling across the United States to visit America’s National Parks, who filled our waters and offered us trail mix. We met a group of people who were traveling with a local youth group, who gave us plenty of chips and cookies, and a massive watermelon that we ate with our pocket knife. We met a young man named Austin from upstate New York, who stopped and talked with us about our journey, took a portrait of us, and left us with a jug of water and two bananas. We met a Costa Rican man named Luis, who was traveling to Las Vegas with his family in an RV. We conversed in the little English he spoke, and the little Spanish we spoke, and he left with a promise to host us if we ever visited Costa Rica. We were feeling down and anxious about our water needs when we arrived at the rest stop. By the time we left, we’d made friends with more strangers on the side of the road, we had received enough food and water to last us the rest of our trip, and we had high spirits carrying us into the last two days of our trek.

                  

On our fourth day we reached a rest stop with running water, drinking fountains, and covered picnic tables. It felt like a palace. We met a family who was on their own road-trip adventure. They had stopped to make lunch and gave us cheesy bacon mashed potatoes, glasses of moscato and asked to take pictures with us.  With our bellies full and our bodies rested, we started our late afternoon walking in the rain and with the temperature dropping. That night, we rushed to set up our tents in the cold rain and howling winds. We had twenty six miles until Salina, and we decided to push ourselves the next day, in order to reach town, and finish this part of our journey. Despite switching to the unpaved, dirt frontage road, two encounters with flooded underpasses, and one massive uphill, we reached our destination safely. All we had left to do was stock up on Gatorade, coconut water, beer and Mexican food, to ensure we enjoyed our short stay at the Super 8 in Salina, Utah.

         

FAQ’s #3

This is our third round of Frequently Asked Questions. We have put together a combination of questions we are frequently asked by people we meet on the road, as well as a few questions we received from a fellow JV friend.

Do you feel like people are so responsive to you when they think you are homeless because you are two young white people, and don’t appear as “stereotypical” homeless folks?

Yes. We definitely recognize that our privileges such as our skin color, youth, and socio-economic status benefit us immensely on the walk. Because of our race we are likely viewed with less suspicion by residents when we enter a new town and some of the brand name gear we carry signals a certain level of wealth. We realize that the benefits and privileges of our appearances offered us in everyday life carry over into our experiences on the walk.

I am not of the opinion that you are doing this, but have you received any criticism for “playing poor,” by actual homeless folks or otherwise? Or is your advocacy completely appreciated?

Not yet. We try and be very upfront about what we are doing to make it clear we are not pretending to be homeless. We have a sign on the front of our cart that says what we are doing and, when people give us money, we always explain that it will go to a homeless day shelter. A few times on this trip, people have wondered if we are presenting ourselves as homeless as a way of raising awareness for homelessness, and we want to clarify  that is not at all our intention. We look the way we look because of the nature of our trip, and are using the cart we are using because it is the most practical means of traveling across the country by foot. The only way we are attempting to raise awareness about homelessness is by engaging people in conversations about our experience working at JOIN, and the importance of affordable housing in all our communities. Often, when people do mistake us for being homeless, they will offer us money for food or shelter. While we keep a tally of all the money we receive, and put it towards the fundraiser at the end of every month, we also always want to be clear about where the money goes.Some people would prefer to give their money directly to someone experiencing homelessness rather than an organization, and we want to respect that. The only times we have received criticism for our advocacy is when people think the money we raise goes to our expenses and the leftover goes to the shelter. However, this is not the case. We saved our own money for over a year, so that everything raised goes directly to the shelter. Overall, everyone we have met has been supportive of the cause and we have had many productive conversations about affordable housing and homelessness.

How many pairs of shoes have you gone through?

Danny: I’m currently rotating between my third and fourth pair.

Abby: Three.

What’s your longest day yet?

We did a 35 mile day in eastern Colorado, which was tough but the weather was very cooperative.

What’s your favorite state?

Danny: It’s tough to say, since we’ve seen such gorgeous scenery, and experienced such hospitality and generosity, in each state, but my vote goes to Colorado. There were so many different landscapes across the state, from the flat, rolling, Kansas-like plains of the east, to the Rocky mountains, to the desert of western Colorado. It’s had some of the coolest, funkiest little hippy towns, some of the nicest weather we’ve had, and all the amazing views we got while crossing the mountains.

Abby: I don’t have a favorite state. It’s hard to compare them because they all bring different challenges and experiences.

Do you think your man/lady combo is an advantage/disadvantage in your travels, when being approached by strangers or asking to camp in their yards?

We think it’s an advantage having a man and a woman. When we knock on someone’s door asking to yard camp, Abby always does the talking because we think a woman appears less threatening. When we are approached by strangers on the road Abby feels it’s an advantage having Danny because she is less vulnerable than she would be alone. It also can be comforting when we’re staying with a single person.

Are you tired of each other?

Not yet, but San Francisco is still a long ways away (joking!)

You have shared so many beautiful anecdotes about community and hospitality, but are there long dry spells in between where you feel on your own, or have been rejected at all along the way?

Abby: Especially now that we are out west there are definitely times when it feels like we are on our own compared to the east coast and midwest. Even though we have experienced so much hospitality and community with strangers, I definitely miss the familiarity of relationships from back home, since we are always the outsider.  We’ve been really lucky not to get rejected much along the way, with the exception of some internet trolls on news articles about us haha.

Danny: It’s something I was aware would happen going into the walk, but I still find myself overwhelmed by the isolation that can kick in. We obviously have each other for company, which is great, and we have met and become friends with countless kind strangers along the way, but there are long stretches where the experience can be lonely. There are constant reminders on social media of nights out with friends that you missed. There is a constant bombardment of news that can make me feel removed from the real world. The trip as a whole is a very internal experience, in which you spend a lot of time with yourself. As challenging as it has been to be removed, it has also allowed ample time for writing and reflection that we wouldn’t otherwise get.

What’s the best site you’ve seen?

Abby: Similar to the favorite state question, it’s difficult to pick a best site. However some good ones have included the top of Cottonwood Pass in Colorado, the WWI history museum in Kansas City, the Gettysburg battlefields, the plains in Kansas, and the view of New York City from Jersey City to just name a few.

Danny: My favorite sites are all the tourist traps in the small towns we’ve passed through. The world’s largest ball of sisal twine, in Cawker City, Kansas is definitely up there. The world’s largest easel, with a version of Vincent Van Gogh’s “Three Sunflowers In A Vase,” in Goodland, Kansas was very questionable. The world’s largest pecan in Brunswick, Missouri was the biggest tourist trap of them all. It was a sculpture, not a real pecan. SMDH.

Are you walking back when you’re done?.

Abby: Nope

Danny: Hellll no! I’m currently planning on taking a train back, and am hoping to pass through some cities that we didn’t get to see, but we’ll see how that goes.

Genoa, Colorado

When we turned onto the I-70 frontage road, I saw a sea of broken machinery, rundown trailers and dilapidated homes, spray-paint covered trains filled with raw materials, and a single grain mill, acting as the standalone skyscraper of the town, Genoa, Colorado. At the top of the mill were the words Genoa Grain Co., faded gray into the off-white coloring of the concrete. At the bottom was a man working in a dark blue jumpsuit, with any further description made impossible by the distance between us. The man was working at the base of the building, using a shovel to lift something off the bottom step of the staircase leading into the building, and then methodically turning to drop the substance into a bucket. After performing this task for a bit, he switched his tool of choice to a broom. He stretched his leg to the third step, nimbly avoiding sullying his work on the first two, and began sweeping the third step, as deliberate with his broom as he was with his shovel. I watched this man perform these simple tasks, and I felt a confusing mixture of admiration and discouragement. Admiration for the commitment to craft that was evident in his accomplishment of a simple task like sweeping. Discouragement at the loneliness of the sight, and, what then felt to me, like the poverty of the landscape behind him. 

In hindsight, I am ashamed of my sadness at the situation. I realize now it was not sadness I felt, but pity. From what vantage point did I have to feel pity for someone? Moments before we entered Genoa, I’d been listening to the Joe Rogan podcast, where he and Sebastian Junger discussed Junger’s book Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging. In the interview, Junger asserted that “human beings need three basic things in order to be content: they need to feel competent at what they do; they need to feel authentic in their lives; and they need to feel connected to others. These values are considered ‘intrinsic’ to human happiness and far outweigh ‘extrinsic’ values such as beauty, money and status.” In my moment of pitying the man, I had resorted to a condescension connected to the comforts of my life before the walk. I was assuming that the ways of life that I have always known, and that modernity has conditioned me into, were not only superior to life in Genoa, but were simply a more desirable way to live. An accumulation of possessions, an ownership of things, and an ascension to a certain stratosphere of social status were all the methods of measuring oneself, and developing a sense of ones own worth. This man seemed to be in pursuit of the inverse of these values. He seemed to be closer aligned with the prescribed practices Junger detailed in Tribe. Again, this is all an assumption, made in a moment of internal debate, based on an interpretation of events seen from a distance. I assumed this man lived in Genoa, a town of 139 of people in eastern Colorado. I assumed he had lived there his whole life, and had worked this job for most of it. And I had taken a negative outlook towards these assumptions. I did not pay attention to the admiration I felt for him, for the pride he took in his work, and the diligent effort he was putting into it. I did not assume that by living in a town of 139 people, he might have developed intense bonds with his community. I did not assume that he might love his job, and the satisfaction he might get from working at the same place for many years. The more I thought about the little personal information I had about this man, the more I realized how misguided my discouragement was, and how, although our lives are greatly different, we derive our meaning from the same things.

I am incredibly lucky, grateful and privileged to have all the comforts in life that I have. But it is not the comforts or the possessions I have that make me happy, or make me fulfilled. It’s all the things that I presume to have in common with the man at the mill. A family or community to love and be loved by. A few friends to call on or laugh with. A duty or task to find purpose in. These few things can create a sense of identity and a sense of purpose in anyone, and are all we should ever be looking for, according to Sebastian Junger. This man has his home here in Genoa, presumably along with his family and his community. He has his job here at the mill, where he performs his duties with due diligence, and takes pride in his work. That is a life well-lived. 

In the moment, as I questioned my own reaction, I turned and faced away from the man. I looked away, across the bustling interstate, towards a gray-blue farmhouse, where one man was exiting the house and another was approaching it. I watched these two men, clad in black leather biker gear, grab each other in a warm embrace on the front lawn, and turn back towards the building. They crossed the driveway, with a picturesque background of golden wheat fields, passing the rundown pickup truck and trailer in the driveway, to reenter what I now recognize was their home.

– danny

In Defense of Kansas

        Right after we finally exited the western slope of the Rocky Mountains we met a woman fly fishing in a small coal mining town who asked us what we were doing. After hearing about the walk, she shook her head in shock that we had walked through Kansas. She bombarded us with questions about walking through the Sunflower State, but didn’t inquire once about how we just made it through the Rockies. Her reaction is typical. When people we met asked us about our route early in the trip we often heard something like “you have to walk through Kansas? I hope you make it.” Kansas was the state people expressed the most concern about, not the Rockies, not the desert, not the 110 miles in Utah with no services, and not the Sierra Nevada. Kansas. People seemed more worried about us dying of boredom than they did about us getting eaten by bears or frying in the desert. At 400 miles across, Kansas is the widest state we will walk through and many people who had driven through it warned us about the tedium of the landscape and couldn’t imagine spending more than 6 hours on the road, let alone 3 weeks. However, our experience could not have been more different and I found that Kansas is a state where you can really only appreciate the beauty of the landscape and the character of its residents by walking. Below are some of the highlights from our time in Kansas.

Hillbilly Golf

     Walking towards Manhattan, Kansas a woman named Tina pulled over in her minivan and invited us to spend memorial day weekend with her and her husband, Ponch. We learned later that they were both veterans and Tina had recently suffered an unexpected heart attack and decided to retire and spend more time exploring the country. Tina invited their neighbors over for a barbecue, showed us around the Kansas State campus, took us to her favorite Thai restaurant, and brought us to scenic viewpoints of the Tuttle Creek Lake. We discussed politics, Tina’s time working for the government as an environmentalist, the military, homelessness, farming and more. We agreed on many issues and disagreed on some, but overall our conversations gave me hope for what effective political discourse could look like during this time. It didn’t matter that we were a group of people with vastly different backgrounds, ages and experiences because everyone at the dinner table listened respectfully to each other talk about the challenges facing our respective communities and our hopes for how to build a better future.

     However, the highlight of our time there was when Tina and Ponch took us to the community golf course practically in their backyard and taught us how to play what they call “Hillbilly golf.”  The rules to Hillbilly golf are there are no rules. We drove around on golf carts to the best holes to watch the sunset and hit as many balls off the tee as we wanted and then played whatever ball we felt was best. Or, we just threw the ball where we wanted to hit it. We crushed Keystone Light, while laughing hysterically whenever we whiffed the ball, which was often. There were no pretensions of clothing, silence, rules, and etiquette. Just golf clubs from Goodwill. Just tooling around. Just learning about another community. Just joy. “Hillbilly golf,” my kind of golf.

World Records

     Kansas is home to some pretty great world records. We stopped by the world’s largest ball of twine and the world’s largest easel. We also visited the geodetic center of North America; not a world record, but still a cool landmark.

easeltwinegeodetic

National Historic Sites

     Nicodemus, Kansas was the first African-American settlement west of the Mississippi River during the Reconstruction era. Newly freed slaves made the difficult journey to Kansas in hopes of creating a better life unavailable to them in the the south. Today the town is home to a visitor center with exhibits on the history of the town and African-American pioneers and 5 historic buildings from the early years of the settlement. The women who worked at the museum, some of them descendants of the first pioneers, were incredible. After we left the museum a storm developed and they drove out to check on us 3 times to make sure we were okay. When the storm looked like it may turn into a tornado they found a friend with a pick-up to give us a ride to safety. You can learn more about Nicodemus here.

nicodemus.png

Rural Landscapes

     Kansas’s landscape is subtly stunning. Whereas the majesty of the mountains and canyons of a state like Colorado can be appreciated in every mode of transportation, from driving to flying, Kansas’s beauty is much harder to see at 60 miles an hour. On the eastern side of Kansas there are rolling hills dotted with idyllic farmhouse and many lakes and state parks. As we moved west there was an endless sea of golden wheat; when the wind blows the strands change colors slightly, giving off a mesmerizing sparkle. When corn stalks are in their infancy, less than a foot tall, they are such a bright lime green that in the morning it looks like there are fields filled with glowing neon lights. In western Kansas we could walk ten miles and still see an outline of the grain elevator from the town we had stayed in the night before. Sometimes it felt like you could see to the end of the world. The sides of the roads are filled with tiny wildflowers, probably impossible to see in a car, that were all shades of pink, purple and yellow. The sunsets were some of the best we’ve seen yet. I could go on and on, but I’ll let our pictures do the rest of the talking.

sunsetcowsgrain elevatorlongviewfarm sunsettuttle creek rivernature reclaimingdanny limestonekansas farmcreeklong roadwildflower

-Abby

Old Journal Entries

Editor’s note: These are a few old journal entries that I reread recently that capture the sentiments I held in the early goings of the walk. Some are comical, some are enthusiastic, and some are anxious for things to come, with no real awareness of how the trip would unfold.

Addt’l editor’s note: The editor and author of this article are the same person. Basically, there is no editor for this site.

3/22/17
Today felt easy enough. A good headspace in the morning, with some nice interactions outside the post office, followed by frustration over the lack of interviews we’ve done with people, the lack of pictures I have taken, and the lack of writing I’ve done. Some Kanye, a Sports Movie Hall of Fame podcast episode, and, of course, walking, cured some of that negativity. We’re about 100 steps from the road right now, about 300 from someone’s home, 5 from running water, and I feel pretty on edge. I’m going to have to get used to this I guess. The good news is that tent life seems more opportunistic for writing, which will certainly be helpful in the near future. While my memory of today feels strangely vague, it’s walking experiences like today, where the monotony and repetition of it are able to therapeutically lift me out of some negativity. I haven’t quite reached the transcendent walking experience that I imagined, and hoped for, (and laughed at the idea of), but it is nice to be able to recognize the cathartic, balancing elements of the walk while it’s happening. In the days and weeks to come, I hope my mind naturally continues to turn inward. For now, I’ll start my nightly routine of listening to standup comedy and passing out.

DSC_1051

3/22 One of our first nights camping. We were just off the highway, in an area of woods we weren’t certain we could camp in. We may have been all smiles for the camera, but we certainly weren’t smiling when it dropped to 15 degrees that night!

 

3/24/17
Today felt like one of the easiest, quickest days in awhile. We got a good night of rest at the motel yesterday, and were able to squeeze in a good, free breakfast out of them too before heading out. And after that it was just a straight shot down Route 30 all day long. We stopped for bathroom breaks, and to buy some apples and take some pictures, but aside from both the great lunch break we took, and beginning to ascend the mountain in the last hour, today mostly felt like a blur. But lunch was great, our waitresses were incredibly friendly and intrigued by the walk, and both the mom with her four kids, and the older woman in the booth next to her, were wonderful. Both simultaneously managed to be supportive and friendly, while maintaining their concern and incredulity. Especially the mom. She even offered to pick up our lunch, but, at that point, another patron at the diner, a mysterious one who left without interacting with us, had paid our tab already. That diner was a microcosm of countless interactions we’ve had. We have our recited responses to their familiar questions, and we have the certain jokes we make whenever we’re talking with people, but it’s always the kindness and concern we receive from these strangers that makes walking all day easy. And the spot we’re camping tonight? Couldn’t be more ideal (fingers crossed). It’s just off route 30, so we can hop right back on in the morning. It’s flat for our camping gear. It’s near a precipice that looks out into the valley of the state forest, with the peaks and ridges towering behind us, and, most importantly, it’s warm. So far, it’s as comfortable as the hotel beds we’ve slept in, with the added comfort of solitude in my tent, the stars above me, and the chirping of cricks lulling me to sleep.

DSC_1059

3/24 Still one of our favorite campsites. We found this ledge looking out over the Appalachian Trail just in time for a beautiful Pennsylvanian sunset.

 

3/26/17
2 nights in a row camping, 2 days in a row pushing Caddie up and down mountains, 2 and 1/2 days without a shower. Sleep deprived, sore and smelling like shit, we have officially begun experiencing what the rest of the trip will be like. It finally feels like we are living on the road, experiencing each day as a backpacking, instead of the young couchsurfing adventurers we began this trip as. It’s easy to idealize the values and experiences that led us to this trip when you have a kind, welcoming audience to wax poetic to about it. Now, we are removed from familiar places, pushing ourselves physically and the internal questions we were excited for seem that much more daunting. It was easier to feel safe and secure when we had a destination to reach, a warm bed to end our day in, and a hot shower to begin the next day with. The comforts of music and Marc Maron, and of reading and writing, are going to have to carry me that much farther. Pleasant interactions won’t just be something to write about at the end of the day. They will be all I have to write about at the end of the day. The challenges of the past two days have made the challenges to come on this trip that much clearer. With some music to walk to, a pen and paper to write with, and an open mindset, I feel ready to confront them.

DSC_0933

3/26 Just an example of some of the rolling hills we had to climb in Pennsylvania.

– danny

6 ways people greet us on the road

The One Finger Salute — Not to be confused with the New York one finger salute, this is the minimum amount a Midwesterner will do while driving past in their car. It’s a way of maintaining their reputation for Midwestern politeness, while still offering the disregard of a New York one finger salute.

Image result for midwestern salute one finger driving

The Jaw Dropper — The Jaw Dropper is usually someone in their 70’s or 80’s who slowly crawls by, mouth agape, completely unsure what they have just seen.  Somewhere between our dirt sooty faces, tattered clothes, and their inability to read our sign, these people stare with a bewildered, confused look at us. They never stop, but we suspect the Jaw Droppers are the ones who typically call the police on us. Presumably to report the couple that has been walking across America since the Dust Bowl.

The Break Eye Contact — We know these people see us. We see them see us. We’re hard to miss, and we wave pretty vigorously to make sure we’re hard to miss. These people look away so quickly, their heads 180 degrees like The Exorcist. We’re guessing they see our cart and look away from a combination of awkwardness and fear that we have a baby in our cart. Or they’re evil people. They’re probably evil.

People Come Bearing Gifts — Beers, bibles, and baloney are just a few of the ways these #roadangels bless us with their presence. One day it is 90 degrees out, and someone gifts us with a cooler of Gatorade. The next day, we are easing along casually, and we get bombarded with pamphlets about the nearest Jim Bakker gathering. Sometimes it takes all our self control not to drop to your knees and thank them, and other days all we can do is grit our teeth as we receive our 12th copy of the Our Father. We are always grateful to these road angels though, whether they’re giving us food, water, or something to talk about.

 

People who reverse towards us — Perhaps the most terrifying of the bunch, this group is both well-intentioned and misguided. They’ll pass by us on the road, see our sign, and slam on their brakes. They’ll reverse towards us down the highway, as they roll their window down, and take their eyes off the road. The problem is, when a car reverses towards us, we immediately become wary and defensive, and begin to assume diving positions to launch ourselves out of the car’s way. While these people are often reversing towards us to offer us assistance, the slight arrhythmia in our hearts it causes is rarely worth the free water.

Peace signs from fellow hippies — These are a polarizing bunch. They typically greet us with the peace sign and a honk, and a nod of their shaggy-haired head. Sometimes they’ll even pull over and offer up a Wooderson quote:

These were the people we were most excited to meet on the road. Cool, funny fellow travelers, who know the struggles of living out of a backpack, and share some wisdom with us in the moments we have together. Most of the time though, we get this:

And what a shocking realization it becomes. That living the dream of the 60’s will catch up to you by the late aughts. We’re looking forward to San Francisco already.

Halfway Done — Album

The Strangers We Meet

We don’t want the individuality and personality of each person we interact with to get lost in the shuffle between the places we stop and the countless people we meet. These were all kind people, who took time out of there day to stop and talk with us or to offer us assistance. The repeated kindness of strangers on this trip cannot be overstated. Below are a few of the types of people we have met.

Strangers that stop: On one back-country road, about 30 miles outside Indianapolis, we had three pickup trucks stop to talk with us, one immediately after the other. The first came offering Coca Cola’s and waters. The second, a handsome young guy, loved what we were doing, offered advice on getting to our campsite, and told others down the road about us. The third was a nice older couple, who offered words of encouragement, and later down the road, came out of their home to donate $40 to JOIN and give us waters, all while their dogs licked our legs and laid across our feet. We had a sun-shaded man, with a cigarette dangling from his lips, give us $5, and when we explained our reasoning for walking, gave us another $5 for JOIN, without ever questioning anything we said. We had a nice interaction with a man named Rod, who was out fishing with his buddies, and only briefly stopped to chat with us. He left a lasting impression, with a simple handshake, a soft-spoken voice, and a faint smile on his face as he wished us well. And last we met Sheldon, an elderly man who ran out of his house at a tortoise’s pace to offer us a ride up the road. All these wonderful interactions happened within one hour of each other, on one back-country road in rural Indiana, and left us grateful to have abandoned the main roads for a day.

Strangers give us hugs: We were walking on a county road through rural Indiana, mile 27 of a rainy, 30 mile day, when a middle aged woman, clad in hot pink leggings, with a pencil holding her hair in a bun, slowed down to ask if we were okay. You know those types of people whose entire beings are filled with a high-energy happiness? The tones of their voices ring with optimism? They hold hugs a half second longer, and grab your shoulders afterwards to let you know they meant the extra half second? This woman put all those people to shame. When we told her we were walking across America, she exclaimed “I need to get a picture,” and pulled her car over. After realizing she didn’t have her phone, she ran out of her car, and gave us both huge hugs. She asked us where we started and, when we told her New York, ran back to give us another hug.

Strangers share our passion for walking: A couple weeks ago we received a generous donation to the fundly page from a mysterious man named Dave. A day later, we received an email from the same man, offering us a spot to stay in Indianapolis. While we didn’t know who this man was, and weren’t going to be passing his house on our route, we reached out to him anyway, and arranged to get dinner with him while in Indianapolis. It turns out Dave has dreamt of walking across America since he was a child, and had happened to stumble upon our blog one day, saw we were walking through Indianapolis, and wanted to contribute in whatever way he could to our journey. On this trip, we have been continually amazed by the kindness of the strangers, but never had we met someone who held the same dream as us, inspired by the same desire to see the country at a slow pace, and interact with the beautiful people that populated it. Our dinner with Dave was special. We bonded over our similar experiences with internet trolls, shared countless stories from the road, and left feeling inspired to continue our journey, knowing we had the support of a new friend in Indianapolis.

Dave and us out to dinner in Indianapolis.

Strangers that are caretakers: Our second night in Indiana we ended the day in a town of less than 400 people, looking for a spot to yard camp. We knocked on a door and gave our usual pitch. The woman who opened the door said we could camp in the park across the street, explaining that the police never come through here and nobody would care; she said if anyone did give us a problem we could tell them Nancy gave us permission because she was on the park board. We thanked her, and before we left, began talking with her and her husband and grandson. After a few minutes she asked us if we wanted to stay inside instead, since they had an extra bedroom. She invited us to share dinner with them and, over vegetable soup with okra from her garden, we learned that her grandpa had once owned the house, and, at that time, it was the first in the town to have running water. Nancy was quick to laugh and it became clear that taking care of others was an important part of her life. On her walls hung awards recognizing her service to various organizations. She told us that, although she had retired over a month ago, she barely had a day off yet because she was cleaning houses for her sister so her sister could take off work to be with her son, a marine who recently crushed his leg in a car accident. We noticed a handwritten note from her granddaughter hanging on her fridge that read, “thank you for taking care of me when mom and dad can’t. I appreciate it even if I don’t always show it. I love you.” Making us a pancake breakfast before we left, Nancy was the epitome of Hoosier hospitality.

Posing for a picture with Nancy before we depart.

Strangers that travel: Some people just understand life on the road. We met Ken and Kelly outside Indianapolis, as they rode eastbound on their tandem bike. We stopped to talk with them for a few minutes, thankful to meet kind strangers, and then continued towards our campsite.  About five miles later, we were surprised to see Ken and Kelly pulling up next to use. They were so supportive of our journey that they wanted to buy us dinner that night, and deliver it to us at our campsite. When they arrived at the campsite later that night, we exchanged hugs and thank you’s, posed for a selfie, and then they left, knowing the importance of a quiet night for two weary travelers. We slept well that night, with bellies filled with burgers and rosé, and the comfort of knowing that some people really do understand life on the road.

Burgers. Cookies. Sweet potato waffle fries. Rosé.

Ken and Kelly posed for a quick picture before leaving us to enjoy a quiet meal


Strangers offer advice: We were standing next to our cart outside the Kroger’s in Dayton, Ohio, when Sabela approached us. She asked if we were homeless, like many others have asked on our trip. But her reasoning was different. Sabela was asking because she was new to the area, and she knew some places that were affordable, even for people who might be homeless. After we talked for awhile, and she put us on her snapchat, and followed our Facebook page, she offered us words of encouragement. She had been through a lot in her own life. She suffered from depression and anxiety, and for a long time did not think she’d be alive past twenty five. But she kept going, and was still standing today. She urged us to keep going, just like she had.

In the brief time we spent with Sabela she offered us words of wisdom and encouragement that we still carry with us



Strangers keep us safe: Walking through rural Indiana, the clouds were growing darker and darker by the minute, developing an ominous green tint. We got a text from the national weather service saying there was a tornado warning for the area, and began hustling up the road to the nearest house. The man who answered generously let us pitch our tents in his garage. He even pulled his truck out so we would have more room, subjecting it to the hail storm outside. Fortunately, a tornado never touched down, but it stormed all night and we were grateful to have shelter. In the morning the man brought us water and snacks that fueled us to our next destination.

Strangers feed us: We took the table in the back corner of the restaurant. We were the only people in Walden’s when we walked in, excluding the chef and the waitress, who were sitting together across from us. It turns out the restaurant is a frequent stop for bikers crossing the panhandle trail, and, in exchange for a warm, hearty meal, they ask these strangers to sign their “Trail Tales” journal, which was filled with stories ranging from a group of women 60+ year old women biking across the country, to kids building affordable homes with the Bike and Build program. We received the best free meal either of us have eaten, recommendations for how to get to our next destination, and one beautiful story of friendship captured in photographs above the corner table we were seated at. 

“Alice and Clara’s Corner: Alice Walde and Clara Chamelli became friends after meeting at church. They sat at this table nearly every Wednesday until Alice suffered a stroke in 2013. Sadly, both passed in 2014. While they are no longer here with us, we are sure that they are still dining together in Heaven.”

Strangers break rules: Of course, who is the first person we meet on a college campus that we’re not technically not allowed to stay on? The students we are staying with’s Resident Director. And of course, with our luck on this trip, he ends up being as hospitable and kind as the student’s who were welcoming us in. We ended up getting breakfast with Nick before departing the following day. We shared some of our more ridiculous stories from the road. He told us about his experience on the Camino, showing us beautiful pictures of the Spanish countryside. We said our goodbyes, and he offered one last kind gesture: a ride for our friend Anna back to Pittsburgh.

Strangers make us laugh: We got pulled off the highway, out of the heat, into a bar, by the promise of air conditioning and sodapop. Our host was wearing a shirt with a giant deer on it that said in bold letters “stop the buck.” He told us stories, made us laugh, and, in the midst of our goodbye, said something that rang particularly true for our journey. Below are some of his quotes:

“I live in a barn up the road. It’s a tiny little place, it’s pretty rundown. But I love it. It’s home. I’ve got my dogs, y’know. I’ve got four dogs. I go home, I smoke pot, and I just get to chill.”

“Do you guys know those Entenmann’s doughnuts? The double chocolate fudge ones? With the chocolate fudge on the inside and the chocolate inside? If you don’t do drugs, eating those things is the closest you’ll get. I eat a whole package and just (snoring noise) snooze on my couch.”

“Hey guys, we need more people like you in the world,” he said. 
We responded, “we need more people like you giving us pop”
“We can all get where we’re going a lot easier, together.”

If there’s anything we’ve learned two months in, it has been a lot easier to get where we’re going with the help of strangers along the way.

What are you grateful for?

Over a year ago when we were planning for the walk we had the idea to make the blog a photo story telling project all about gratitude and have that be the theme of the walk. We decided it would work better to keep the blog more broad, but we still wanted to do posts where we interviewed people we met on the street or stayed with and asked them what they were grateful for; below are their answers.

“Life. I’m just grateful for life. I thought when I was 25 I wasn’t going to make it. I’m 29 now and I’m going to be 30 in august. Ha, you wouldn’t even think I’m that old!. I’m diagnosed with depression and anxiety and my depression sometimes gets the best of me, but I’m still here. I don’t ever give up. I don’t stop. That’s what I’m telling you guys– keep going. Don’t give up. Don’t stop. Follow your dream.”

“I’m grateful we can travel to see the Pittsburgh Penguins. We live in New York and it’s an eleven hour drive, so we’re very grateful we’re able to come and experience it. We’re a mother and daughter and it’s fun to experience it together.”

 

 

“I’m grateful for these two jobs I got and this beautiful day. I deliver flowers and I clean offices at night. My favorite part about the flower job is meeting new people and making them smile. I got in trouble with the law before so I’m used to judges taking my money, but when I delivered flowers to a judge he gave me ten dollars as a tip, so that was a good one.”

“I’m grateful for people who are vulnerable around you and who let down their walls and allow themselves  to be loved.”

 

“I’m thankful for having a  community of friends here who are great for adventuring and having fun and also calling me on my faith. At the beginning of the semester we went under the Steubenville bridge and we made a 50 foot rope swing and we climbed out on the beam and spent 6 hours out there just jumping off and having fun.”

“I’m thankful for family and how much they support me in any of my stupid or smart decisions and for always being there for me. The most recent example of this is the other day I was struggling with a philosophy paper and I called up my sister and said “hey you’re an English major can you help me out with this?” and she did. But more than just helping me with this she asked me how my life was going and what I was doing and I told her these crazy plans I had for my future and she said “good idea.”

“I’m grateful for driving. It’s time I can spend alone and being an introvert that’s huge for me. Also, this week especially I’m grateful for fixing broken wounds that have happened in the past and making a lot of progress.”

 

“Looking anywhere, I can find gratitude. Look at that guitar. It’s a bunch of shit that comes from elements of the earth that people throughout time have crafted together that creates music. If you draw the lineages of everything, it is all something that people have created, and that people have dedicated their lives to making. This drywall, these musical instruments, a bed and it’s linens. Everything can be traced back to it’s past, and thinking about that can make me happy to just be in existence each day.”

 

 

“My family is what I’m most grateful for. My family has suffered some adversity, and to get to here I consider myself very fortunate. My grandfather suffered adversity being Italian in the area he grew up in. I never had to deal with any of that shit because of what my relatives went through. I’m grateful to be doing something that they never had the chance to do. They made everything a lot better for me today.” 

 

“I went to my grandmother’s 80th birthday party in Philadelphia about a month ago. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me. I feel gratitude for all of the people in my life who raised me. There’s an unending, deep well of gratitude for them. They taught me social mores, they taught me how to treat people well, to not be hateful to people that are different than me, and thank god that these people are still in my life. I’m trying to express to these people how I feel now. They taught me how to laugh. My grandmother suffered a lot, but she taught me to laugh at how absurd life is and taught me how inconsequential so many things can be. When I hang out with my friends I laugh at things in my life that should be terrible, and should be upsetting, but we always are able to find humor in them. A sense of humor is a sense of goodness.”