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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.