Thursday, June 30, 2011

Day Thirty-Four, Boxers or Briefs

I have a sort of technique for packing up all my gear in the rain. Nothing I own stays completely dry, and I get plenty wet myself, but it works to some small degree. I don't know how much a soggy pack weighs compared to a dry one, but I can't help but feel cheated. I'm carrying unecessary pounds.

Everything I own is sopping wet. The rain had nothing to do with it. I upset a bottle of water in my tent last night. "What'd you do a fool thing like that?" you may want to know. It was an accident. Like the time I set fire to my tent trying to kill a mosquito with a disposable lighter. It could happen to anyone.

Quite a big bottle, too. I really doused the place. It was like a kiddie pool. I was bailing for hours and all my laundry went to sop up whatever was left. So now everything is wet. Hell, I'm used to it. I sweat like a monkey. I wear the same shirt every day. I have a theory that a shirt should be good for three days, though I have gone as long as four and have retired a couple after two.

My underpants are similarly recycled. I won't bore you with the details. But I like to get my money's worth from a coin-op fluff and dry. Oddly enough, I have only recently started wearing underwear. If you met me any time between 1999 and a couple of weeks ago, odds are I was free-ballin' it.

To coin an expression.

But I was worried about chafing and back-lighting and indecent exposue, so I went out and bought me some underpants. But not before I consulted my friend Larry. What Larry don't know about underpants ain't worth learning. He turned me on to a spiffy set of long-legged briefs.

I tell you, they're lovely. Out of the dryer they make you feel toasty and safe. I might keep on wearing them once I return to civilian life. But they do get soggy over the course of a day and I have darnedest time getting them dry. Which means as often as not that I have to start the day in wet underpants.

Yet I retain my trademarked optimism, that perennial good cheer which defines me. I'm just saying it's hard. Nobody knows how I suffer. And now all my underpants are wet. Even the dry ones. Because I poured water on them. Accidentally. Like could happen to anyone.

I hiked into Trout Creek in my clammy underpants and had a fabulous breakfast. Hashbrowns are my new favorite food. In the future when I get really rich I'm not going to eat anything but hashbrowns. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. Hashbrowns.

I also had cake. That was good, too. I was really trying to draw out my visit so I could recharge my little computer. It might conk out any time. If I go missing I was probably eaten by a bear, but it could just mean my batteries are dead.

Then I hiked nineteen miles to Thompson Falls, Montana, coming up four miles short. I did not much enjoy the walking. Some days you just got to gut it out. It's cold up here, by the way. The sun can make it very hot, but that's all there is. The earth has no residual warmth of its own.

I am camped by the river at a little spot set up for fishermen. The state has closed it because half of it is underwater. I put up my tent on the other half.



Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.2

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Day Thirty-Three, Peace

Woke up sleepy at nine a.m. That's ten, Montana time. Rocky Mountain Time, I've heard some folks call it. It's all very confusing. It's got something to do with Relativity or Ike Newton or the Mayan calendar or something. The upshot is that where I had been lucky to be on the road by eleven o'clock, now I'm lucky to make it by noon.

But it's nine and it's still bright as day outside. I may have pitched my tent a little too soon. I am on a tiny little peninsula, just after the bridge on my way into Trout Creek, Montana. It's rather a nice little spot. I am invisible to all but one house on the other side of a wide river, and the highway is twenty feet away, up a high bank. It is noisy but that is the point. It will delay my being eaten by bears.

The other places I looked at were in a National Forest and looked very much like the sort of scenery you'd expect to see in one of them National Geographic documentaries about bears. Who eat people. Though I am having the damnedest time figuring out why they should want to eat me. I'm old and probably chewy. There are so many better options out there. If I were a bear I'd eat a child.

I have too noticed that every road sign in Montana is riddled with bullet holes. Not holes, exactly. Dents, deep dents. The use a real heavy gauge steel. But it does make me wary about putting up my tent too near a road sign. The gunfire could keep me up nights.

I had a hard time sleeping last night, as well. I think the ground was too flat. It was creepy; it makes you feel like you are camping indoors or something. And it was strange having so many people around me. It's a weird way to camp. I like my usual approach better.

The first two miles I walked were no fun at all. I felt so blasted sleepy. I tried to take a nap but bugs crawled on me and made their nests in my hair. I bet if space aliens came here and saw how many bugs we've got everywhere, they'd be really creeped out.

After that I found a store where none was expected and enjoyed an icy Coca Cola and one of them super-caffeinated energy drink dealies they market to the Ritalin generation. And I tell you, that caffeine really is a miracle drug. Got me pepped up and right back out there. I walked twelve miles, zoom, and managed a not too awful eighteen for the day. Uphill and starting at noon.

Rocky Mountain Time.

I did take a break at one pretty spot, a "scenic turnout," they call it here. It was a wide spot in the road, high above the river I've been following for days. There were no boats or houses or powerlines or anything. Just trees and the sun on the water. I could see what I am pretty sure had to be Rocky Mountains in the distance. I'll get to see them close up soon enough.

And I walked through a construction zone where the flaggers stopped traffic in both directions for almost ten minutes so I could walk through undisturbed. The construction guys mocked me openly and sang Army songs at me. Still it was nice of them.

"I don't know but I've been told, Eskimo ----- is mighty cold."

I also met a couple of cyclists who were celebrating their graduation from the University of Washington by pedalling from Seattle to the Dakotas and back. I think they are very silly but I did not tell them. I was happy they even talked to me. Cyclists never talk to me. They don't even say hi. I saw these two coming up the hill behind me and thought, "Oh, great. More asshole cyclists." I was trying to think of something nasty to say to them when they said hi, just like that. They slowed their climb and we talked for like five minutes. I didn't even learn their names.

The road is less travelled here and the shoulders are a little better. Oncoming cars are free to make a wide path around me and I tip my hat in thanks. I've got a whole lot more people waving at me these days, more than half. I find it very encouraging. So I wave and nod and tip my hat. I've been experimenting with a peace sign.

I must say it still feels a little unnatural. I had been using it only for Volkswagen vans, but you hardly see those anymore. I remember a woman I met in Leavenworth, Washington--Jackie was her name--who asked me what I was walking for. "I don't know, I'm just walking," I told her. "You're walking for Peace," she said.

And why the hell not? I am walking for Peace.


I WAS having trouble explaining my politics to two nice Montana ladies. I told them I was a Bolshevik. "Bolsheviks are bad," they told me. "I'm not a Bolshevik," I said.

I HAVE wondered what it would be like to give everyone the finger, just to flip off every passing car. It would not be in keeping with the spirit of my own adventure, but it would still make an interesting social experiment.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.2

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Day Thirty-Two, Montana

I woke up early in my beautiful spot. I yawned and I went back to sleep. I was in a sort of gorge; the rock seemed to really amplify the sound of the passing trains. I was having a dream about Charo.

Cuchi Cuchi.

The trains were clear on the other side of my river and I figured it was good they were making so much noise. Keep the bears away. There is a concensus among the folk I meet on the road that I am gong to be eaten. This ain't just them ribbing the city kid. They are unanimous and sincere. I am going to be eaten.

I got to tell you, it's getting to me. But it's a new kind of fear. It's primal. It's real. It's pretty much out of my hands. I take what precautions I'm aware of. I follow conflicting advice. I pee around my tent in a great broad circle to let everyone know I'm there.

I am heartened that there is still some disagreement over which species will get me. The smart money these days is, of course, on bears. But a growing contingent prefers the cougar's chances. Some people like the wolf's. I am hearing less and less about my being stomped by a moose. Maybe that was an Idaho thing.

Because, get this, I am in Montana. It seems so very far away. I was greeted at the border by Eleanor and Sue, mother and daughter, who live together in a charming wooden house, made from boards Eleanor's late husband had milled himself. They had acres and acres, stretching all the way from the highway to the river. It was my dream house, only maybe I would rather build closer to the river.

But then I wouldn't be able to wave to passersby and give them shade and cold water and let them play with my dog. And I wouldn't be able to tell them stories and invite them in for a meatloaf sandwich and potater salad and a little bucket full of fresh radishes. And coffee. Thank-you, ladies!

I've been doing pretty well for food lately. The towns were getting further and further apart and I was thinking I was going to starve to death so I bought a half ton of trail mix and whatnot. And I still got a couple of protein bars but they are unspeakably foul. And this morning this guy Ron who I met yesterday on my island came by and gave me a buttload of camping food. And beef jerky which I kind of like but it costs too much. And he gave me a water bottle and told me that all those people who said I was going to be eaten were "full of shit." A very nice man.

He is a sort of mountain man with a long beard and Slavic eyes. He is fishing across America. He lost his wife a few years back and was really sad and fell into a sort of funk and decided he'd save himself by buying a cabover camper and fishing wherever the fishing is best. He started in Utah and is fishing his way to Alaska. It may take him years. He travels with a dog called Hatchet and a nickel-plated .44.

"For grizzlies," he explains. "I want to leave it behind as a present for whoever buries me. They're much too fast to shoot. You'll be alright, though."

I am carrying quite a lot of water these days, as well, so my pack is very heavy. And I'm taking it easy on my foot. I think this might be my last big blister I have for a while and I really want to enjoy it. So I didn't walk so very far. I did manage a ten mile stretch in the middle which means I'm getting back to fighting form. I got sunburnt and skeeter-bit but I didn't much mind. I was happy to finally be walking.

I stopped at a shop in Heron, or very near by, to fill up my water bottles. It's my last civilisation for two nights. I should be able to find water somewhere, but I'll have enough if I don't. There I met Amy, a girl with pink hair and tattoos in Japanese, some of which I could read and others I could not. She let me recharge my computer so I loitered there a long time but was nonetheless made welcome.

There seemed to be a man living in the parking lot in a Toyota Winnebago. Piece of crap, not like mine. He had a hat like Jed Clampett and very few teeth and no shirt and no shoes and he was staggeringly drunk and seemingly handicapped by years of sustained meth abuse. I heard he played the banjo so I went over and intoduced myself.

He was a fairly imprecise coversationalist, and I more than once wondered if I wasn't going to have to punch him in the face, but you've got to understand. I am just nutty for banjo music. I guess I always sort of thought rural America would be stinky with banjo players but he was the first one I had met.

So I finally get through to him that I want a banjo concert, there next to the pumps, just like in Deliverance, and he digs through his camper and comes up with a ratty-looking Fender bottlecap and just sort of strums on it while calling out the chords to himself. Great showmanship, though. He had us all dancing.

Creepy guy, though. I was ready to blow town. He followed me for a while in his truck and we chatted of this and that. I was glad when he left because I don't want some meth fiend to have any idea where I'm camping.

As it was I did not go far. A mile or two out of Heron I found a National Forest campsite. This the first time I have paid to camp. $10. Pretty steep, I think, but that is on the low end these days. There aren't even showers. I just wanted to see what official camping was like.

I had to fill out a form and pay money so that was a drag. It's a pretty spot but not as pretty as the one I had last night. The place for my tent is perfectly flat but it is covered with pointy pointy rocks. I talked to some the other campers but apparently this is unusual. They like the solitude of the outdoors, fifteen feet from their neighbors, snug in their shiny RV. In kind of sucks here, actually. I can say I do feel perfectly safe. There are edible people all around me.

As I was digging out my gear for the evening, I found an unfamiliar envelope and in it I found $18 bucks. It must have come from Ron this morning, bundled with all the food. I can sure use the cash but I get the feeling he rather could, as well. Happy fishing, friend.

CHEERS! to another Ron who sported me two jumbo sodas in Heron.

PURCHASED new bugspray. Chemical, pesticidal, death in a bottle. Cunningly engineered poison. I keep it in a sort of holster on the side of my pack. Skeeters, bring it on. I use my old organic bugspray as Binaca.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.2

Monday, June 27, 2011

Day Thirty-One, Viggo!

I enjoyed a long morning in the wildlife park. I was not, in fact, eaten by cougar. Some mischievous creature made off with my underpants, which I had left out to dry. I found them later. I think it was an otter.

My tent was just beside a small-scale boat ramp and a short floating dock. There had been fishermen there until dark. They told funny stories about prison life. I didn't wake up until nine. Then I had that whole little island to myself. There were a number of herons and I saw what I think was an eagle. It was nice out there.

I had thought I might take a bath but I lost courage. I find I enjoy being naked in the great out of doors but the water was just too cold. I did manage to get my hair washed and I sponged myself off fairly well. And I sat and dried in the sunshine and soaked my weary feet. Even that took some courage. That water had been snow mere hours before but was already home to thousands of fish. I remembered the guy who told me he caught a catfish with a cigarette butt and thought how much my toes looked like cigarette butts in the cold water.

Across my broad marsh was a sort of pen where they catch the driftwood coming down the river. There are broken branches and logs and wholly uprooted trees. There are tons of it and they don't want it in the lake. A sign invited you to take as much as you want.

Beyond that was the highway and above it the railroad, right at the base of the mountain. I haven't made a good effort to describe the land around here. On one side there is the lake or the river. On the other are high rocky hills. They are shaped just like mountains and are covered with trees. Just beyond them are similar hills only they have snow on them. Sometimes there is enough space between the road and the mountains for a ranch. Sometimes there is a cliff I can reach out and touch from the narrow shoulder of the road.

These are the Bitterroot Mountains. I have been walking between them for days. Never up and over, just weaving my way through, following the river uphill. The tallest one from where I sat this morning is called, I think, the Scotsman. It has a little extra blip on top and a lot of extra snow. But it was warm where I was sitting and my feet were icy cold.

I watched the trains go by and got dressed and met a woman called Tika who may very well have been an hallucination. She was a pixie, a positive force. She brought with her two handsome dogs. I talked and talked and talked and talked. She talked a little, too. I was back on the road at three.

I had been tempted to stay where I was, to give my feet a chance to heal. But I have got to do some walking. Ours is an awfully big country. Better my rest days be low-mileage days where I do make some small forward progress. I have been rather a bum these last several days. I am deeply ashamed of myself.

Just outside of Clark Fork I met a man who made this journey last year. Only he ran. Thirty miles a day. To honour our fallen soldiers. I walk eight miles a day and eat three desserts. Because it's do this or go get a job. He bought me lunch which was decent of him. It's not his fault he's the better man.

I spent a long time in Mom's Cafe, talking about Viggo Mortenson. He's an actor who owns land up here. I knew he was in the area because yesterday I met a woodcarver who sells the odd piece to him. Turns out he bought all the land around a mountain and cut off all access to a popular trailhead. He has shut down a local road and is providing haven to a 180lb. cougar who is getting fat on the local livestock. Everyone hopes the cougar eats Viggo's $100,000 horse.

I walked on from there, but not far. It's my day off, don't you know. I had intended to stop at the Montana border but I found a delightful campsie two miles short. I am not sure I am supposed to be here, but there are places in America just too beautiful not to pitch a tent.

ATTACKED outside of Clark Fork by more mosquitos than you have ever seen in one place at one time. They followed me for miles and were most cruel. The expensive bug repellant I bought yesterday just makes them horny.

LAST NIGHT I got up to enjoy a long pee and looked up at the stars in the sky. You wouldn't believe me if I told you. I watched them for hours.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.2

Amazons

I just got a message from Amazon.com, inviting me to get a pedicure in Tacoma. $20 off.

I think they've been reading my blog!
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.2

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Day Thirty

I woke up in my wildlife park quite uneaten by bears. I had not been stomped on by a moose nor kicked by a frightened deer. A turkey, I prefer to believe, stood right outside my tent and muttered threats, but I just ignored him. You wouldn't want to mess with one of these fellows. They look like emus. I have never been closer than one hundred yards or so, but you can tell they're just huge. They bully the other birds mercilessly and walk everywhere they go.

I enjoyed another leisurely day. I let the hole in my foot set the pace. It is not the largest wound you will ever see but 'tis enough, 'twill serve. It is remarkably deep. I think it reahes to my soul. It is right on the back of my left heel and even when it is behaving it makes me walk rather flat footed on that side which eventually makes the opposite knee unhappy. It sort of zigzags its way up my spine.

You see, it all has to do with that the-thigh-bone-is-connected-to-the-knee-bone jazz. I ain't sure of the physics of it. I just know that if you get one little toe out of line you wind up aching all over. So I barely walked today. And I spent a lot of time staring at the lake. And the sky. And eating desserts made from huckleberries.

I did eventually reach Hope and East Hope, where I stopped at an art gallery cafe and had a lovely bowl of soup. I ain't a big soup eater, as a rule, but it was really good. It had garbanzos in it which is in keeping with my theory that more foods should have garbanzos in them. And there were mushrooms and it was subtly flavored; you could taste each individual vegetable. I also had spinach quiche. And a sandwich. It was all the kind of food I imagine rich people eat. In California.

After lunch I re-bandaged my feet and admired the artwork. I am afraid most of it failed to move me. Then the writer's workshop people came in and we all sipped wine and heard them perform vignettes from their play writing class. It was all very sophistcated. I was in an arists' colony.

Now I suppose I have as much right as anyone to call myself an artist. I have conceived and created and bled. These very sentences came at a cost. And I've always liked the idea of being surrounded by people similarly engaged, who understood the pain of creation. But think I am doomed to solitude. I just have too much to say.

Everyone was nice to me and our charming hostess turned me on to a great campsite. I am as far from the highway as I've ever been, though I am reassured by the odd passing car. I am on a sort of river delta, on what is pretty much an island. It is the Panhandle Wildlife Management Area. I can hear an owl and a great many frogs. Earlier I saw an eagle.

On the way in I met three dudes riding vintage BMW motorcycles. I mean really riding them; these things were beat to crap. Nice looking bikes, though. I wish I had one. I also had a long talk with three fisherman about parole hearings and court-ordered substance abuse counselling. You learn things out here, you do.

Later their friend came. He had a Roman nose. Not like you'd see on coins, exactly. It was a lesser Roman nose. Perhaps broken. Like one of those Romans who came in and cleaned up the coliseum after the lions were through with the Christians. Anyway, he was a bear hunter and told me that if I didn't move my tent I could be eaten by a cougar. Apparently I was on the exact sort of spot where cougars most like to eat people.

I moved my tent. And now I have cougars to add to my list of scary scary animals. You learn things out here.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.2

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Day Twenty-Nine, Long Lazy Summer Afternoons

I managed all of sixteen miles today. I could have done better, I know. I got a good start, though; you'd have been proud of me. I woke up at seven o'clock. I packed up my gear in record time and was on the road by eight-fifteen. I'll tell you one thing about mornings in Idaho. They are gawdawful cold. My fingers complained bitterly over every zipper and strap.

My feet hurt until I put on my shoes. Then everything was peachy. I charged into Dover and then on to Sandpoint where I had heard there was a laundromat. I use my dirty laundry as a pillow and it was getting a little ripe. It had started to colour my dreams.

Sandpoint, Idaho is a prosperous town of six or seven thousand people. It has a sort of rich-people vibe like I have always imagined Aspen, Colorado might have. It's not exactly boutiquey, but it is neat and well-groomed and is surrounded by snow-covered hills. There is a suggestion of snow, at any rate. I'm told it has usually melted by now. There too is the lake, just off to the side and ringed with some very expensive looking cabins.

All up the road as I was on my way here people were saying, 'Wait'll you get to Sandpoint. You're gonna love it there!" I guess I imagined a kind of hippie paradise. That was Elk. Sandpoint is just a nice little town.

But it's big enough to make me wary. I get used to the wild outdoors. I guess most of my focus was on walking in and on walking out again. Maybe I didn't give Sandpoint a chance. I did meet some very nice ladies at the laundromat. One even came and visited later, some miles up the road. It is always nice to catch up with old friends.

I guess I had walked some ten miles at that point. It had been effortless. But my stomach was a little sloshy from drinking nineteen glasses of water and three Pepsis and a large huckleberry shake.

I'm not altogether sure what huckleberries are, but there are a lot of them on offer up here. Young men, at great personal risk, venture into the wilderness and gather them up, winning both fortune and esteem. It is dangerous because bears also like to eat huckleberries. Next time you eat a huckleberry, remember it was paid for with human lives.

After that my blisters popped and my bag got heavy and I lost all motivation. Those last few miles were a struggle. And I kept finding rocks and big friendly trees and places to take a rest. It is beautiful country up here. I like lakes and rivers and big fluffy clouds. It all made resting too easy. I spent too many hours sitting in the sun, thinking of nothing much. I really ought have been walking.

But then my feet get a say and despite these new blisters, they have been remarkably cooperative. My bones don't ache anymore and my toes have all but stopped seeping. I think these new deep blisters are the last ones for a while. I can hardly wait.

One place I stopped was at one of those drive-thru espresso huts you see popping up in parking lots a over America. But this one was different. It was beautifully painted and had a lawn and a picnic table where I could rest my feet. I thought too a coffee might help but the little shop was closed. I sipped discount Gatorade and waited for a train to pass by.

Eventually the owners did turn up. They were Bob and Colleen. They are bikers. They live in the forest. The bears are their only friends. Collen gave me muffins and fancy water and energy drinks for the road. She is nice, she says, because she is Canadian. I remembered Polly who gave me banana bread in the earliest days of my adventure. She is Canadian, too, I think, at least by marriage. Sometimes I wonder if I'm walking across the wrong country.

I didn't make it too many miles from there. I was surrounded by steep hills and it was starting to get dark. I saw a dirt road up into the woods and I found a patch for my tent. From here I overlook the lake and my next ten miles of highway as it winds its way past three hills. The first hill was still in the midday sun when I began typing this, then the next, then the next. Now it is all quite dark. I am chasing the sun to the east.

Google tells me I am camped in the Pend Oreille Wildlife Management Area. That rather makes me uneasy. If I am eaten, know that I died as I lived, sobbing like a little girl.


Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.2

Photos: Elk, WA and Idaho





Friday, June 24, 2011

Day Twenty-Eight, Krishna Consciousness

A good way to walk, and it's a lot harder to do than you might think, is to let your mind go blank, to let your feet do all of the walking. Your unconscious mind will keep an eye on the road and do a fairly nice job of it. It'll tip your hat to the ladies and wave hi to farmers and step to the side for wide loads. Meanwhile, you are free to contemplate higher things in comfortable, pain-free environment.

I've never been able to do this for long. Maybe a mile or two. I think it's a kind of meditation. I don't know much about it. I shared a cab with a Hare Krishna once. They meditate like madmen. And I remember there was something about using the toilet. Some special ritual or difficulty. By those standards I am a Hare Krishna already. Invite me to your next party.

I had the damnedest time getting out of bed this morning. I slept until almost nine. I ought to be on the road by seven. I feel like such a dog. And I was so comfortable there. What I thought had been rain was nothing more than the pine needles, clicking together in the breeze. There were flowers and butterflies and great many ants. The mosquitos were all a bit groggy. A bullfrog was croaking; the odd deer scampered by, waving at me with her tail. I think I may still have been within the Priest River city limits. I don't care. It was nice. I could have stayed there forever.

But the secret to success in modern America is to be a goal-setter, to think at least eight moves ahead. You're a team-player; you're a self-starter; you've got things you mean to achieve. None of this living-in-the-moment foolishness. That is for nincompoops.

Yet there I sat, for an hour or more, contemplating the moment. And the one that followed and the one after that. I was beginning to get a bit drooly. It took will but I ate a blueberry poptart and got my butt back on the road. Must have been eleven or so. Motel time.

I would have been quicker but I had a lengthy debate over whether I should wear my pullover. Every time I took it off the wind would pick up and the sun would go behind a cloud. When I put it on it would get blazing hot. I played at this for an hour or more. I was controlling the weather.

I finally wore the silly thing and was all of a mile down the road when I decided it was too hot so I stopped to take it off and put it on and take it off again. All on the side of the road. I felt like a god. Still, it was awfully tiring as I have to work all kinds of buckles and straps each time I put the thing away. I endure the most cruel hardships.

I sat down next to a pretty little lake to rest and reapply sunscreen and then wipe it off and reapply sunscreen again. I used up my spray-on sunscreen, which I rather liked even though it was a pain to lug around, and replaced it with SPF 50 for babies. It won't sting your eyes, they claim. But apart from that one virtue it is the foulest goop you can imagine. It's like smearing yourself with paste. And of all discourtesies, it stains my chin whiskers white. I could sue them for wounding my soul.

It was an awful pretty little lake. I found myself in the moment again. I watched and osprey diving again and again and never quite finding his fish. They taunted him by jumping when he climbed back into the sky. And I thought that the sky was beautiful and I waved at a passing train. I was at peace and now I am deeply ashamed. Hippy bullshit.

I did want to walk a couple of miles. It's all I have that defines me. And the next town, the next food, the next well-earned rest, were eight miles up the road. So I sat down and ate a bag of CornNuts. I contemptated each CornNut. I empathised with them. I appreciated them by the handful. I gathered a small group of fishermen around me and spoke to them of wise things. The first ingredient in CornNuts, by the way, is corn. The second? Nuts.

But I did walk on and finally wound up in Lacrede, Idaho, an unassuming little town consisting of a good-sized timber yard, a gasoline station, and a tavern. I went to the tavern. For the price of a Whopper I had a Bruno Burger, the most satsfyingly greasy bit of nourishment you can imagine being served with one small, thinnish paper napkin. It came with fries. It was named for Bruno who I guess owns the Klondyke Cafe and Tavern. I liked him because when I came in he said, "What'll ya have, cowboy?" I've rarely been better pleased.

Bruno said it was OK if I put my tent up in back and it was sorely tempting because it was nice, there was a toilet and everything. But I left and walked another ten miles, contemplating my blisters. I did a little surgery on them last night. I won't say I botched it but I will admit that I had hoped for better results. Live and learn, that's my motto.

So in the end I did maybe eighteen miles, seventeen, possibly. But my feet hurt and it was getting dark and I am getting into one of them snooty, lakefront property areas where everyone has these five-thousand sqare foot cabins, all logs and lawn and glass. My dreamhouse each one, in its every form. Some of them must be worth millions. And most people feel that after the first $500,000 or so they are entitled not to have hobos camped in their woods.

The psychotic vagrant I met yesterday objected to being called a hobo. He said hobos have been defeated by life. He was, rather, a woodsman. "Woodsmen give life the finger."

So I am here in my tent up a driveway to nowhere, just up the road from Sand Point. As I was typing this something large and snoofly walked by my tent. I was scared. I think it was a bigfoot. Or a moose. Or some kind of pig. Them mooses, they tell me, is meaner than snakes. Kill you just as soon as look at you.

CHEERS to the apprentice glassblower who found me on the side of the road and gave me butterscotch candies. Thanks!
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.2

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Day Twenty-Seven, Idaho!

I've traveled some; more than most people, I guess. It hardens your heart to the exotic. I've seen Buddhas big and small, upright and reclining, thin and fat, both gilded and bare. I've known veiled women and snake charmers. I've bribed gun-toting Commies on the frontier. I've bought suits in five different languages. I've been in love in three. But none of it means much to me anymore. Along the way it all started to bore me. It's been twenty years since I felt the same thrill I got when I reached Idaho.

I woke up at all of five-thirty or so. I really didn't mean to. There was thunder outside and a good healthy rain. I was frightened for my safety. But then I remembered reading how automobile passengers are safe from lightning. It has something to do with tires or frames or something. The same must certainly be true of tents; it almost has to be.

I tried to get back to sleep but was unsuccessful. I was back on the road by nine. I stopped several times and was having some trouble finding my stride. Small encouragement came when I met my new friend Carrie. She was driving a great big truck. She usually rides her Harley but she's a girl about the rain. A few days back I went four-wheelin' with her and we all drank and smoked and shot off guns. You can't do that without making friends.

Carrie's no kid, don't get me wrong. She's seen a summer or two. But she's blond and trim and has a great big smile. Picture Linda Evans, mid-career. She stopped by to say hey and wish me good luck. It was awfully nice to see her. She is one of my favorite things about the time I spent in Elk.

Then I walked two more miles and stopped in for pie and ran into Carrie again. She is a cowgirl and wins prizes in rodeos. Her horses are Blue and James. I think those are splendid names. She was having drinks with her farrier. I was jealous and so did not trouble myself to learn his name. He seemed like a nice guy, though.

I also ran into Red, a regular at the Mulz'z Shed bar and grill. He has red hair and a red face and talks like some combination of Boomhauer and Froggy from the Little Rascals. He is about sixty years old and nobody can understand anything he says. You just listen for the nouns, and a good forty percent of those are vulgarisms.

"grumblegrumblegrumbleBEERgrumblegrumbleHAHAgrumblegrumble@#%&grumblegrumblegrumblegrumbleGIT'R DONE!!!" Interesting guy.

And from there walked to Newport which is all but in Idaho. It's got me nervous, Idaho does. Everything is different. The roads, the shoulders, the State Patrol, the new ways drivers try to kill me. The road signs are new and the mileage posts all rolled back to zero. I've never camped here and never made friends nor relied on the kindness of strangers. My driver's license makes me a foreigner here, a feeling I am altogether used to.

I was a good half mile into Idaho before I noticed. Finally I had to ask. The city of Newport straddles the border and has a river that runs (backwards, as far as I can tell by looking at it) up the middle. But the river is not the border. It's all on Idaho land. And it's a nice river, pretty and deep and wide. I think we should get at least half.

I paused to put my feet in the river and passed the time with another vagrant. He gets crazy money from Social Security and spends his winters in Spokane and his summers as a mountain man in the national forest. His name was Harold and he was drunk and crazy. His right eye had been gouged out in one of those impromptu knife fights where no one has thought to bring a properly sharpened knife and as such they had made a real hash of it.

"Eww," he told me when he saw my feet. "You should go to a hospital!"

As a rule I try not to let people see my feet. He just happened to be there. I tried to explain that my feet are, in fact, in lovely shape. The last bits of gangrenous flesh are finally dropping off into my shoes. My open wounds are half healed. A lot of that puss staining my socks is from weeks ago. I have three or four new blisters but they are nothing.

"You should go to a hospital," he told me again. He was a big guy and for a moment I thought he might force me.

Despite my condition I walked on from there, all they way to Priest River. I am camped in some sort of prospectve housing development, just on the east edge of town. I for one would never want to live here. There must be a billion mosquitos.

We'll call it 18 miles today, not an altogether bad effort. More tommorow or not too much less, depending on the state of my blisters.

LEARNED, the hard way. It is not necessary in this part of the country to blurt out "Hey, a deer!" every time you see one. There are millions of them. Everywhere. It makes you sound like an idiot. You may mention it if you see a turkey, but even then you shouldn't expect people to get too worked up
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.2

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Day Twenty-Six, Back on the Road

It was not easy but I have broken free of that cosmological phenomenon, that Bermuda Triangle, that Hotel California better known to its friends and neighbors as Elk, Washington. There was some danger I would be stuck there forever. Happiness can be addicting.

But it's misery I crave, atonement, penance on that black asphalt road. I need blisters and sunburn and odd aches and pains. I need to get rained on sometimes. Life ain't all about sipping cold beer and talking to beautiful girls. If it were I would feel foolish for having ever done anything else.

As it was I did not suffer that much today. I didn't leave home until two. I wanted to say goodbye to Chris and Chet and anyone else who happened by. We had rather bonded in those two-and-a-half days. I was frightened my tears would show.

But I bore it manfully and finally got rolling, accompanied for the first couple of miles by a new friend Ted who had just been passing by on his way to meet his parole officer when his little motorcycle threw a rod. Apparently he has dozens of motorcycles. He fixes them and makes them pretty. This wasn't one of his best. He had to abandon it and walk a few miles home to get another one. If he were late they would put him back in jail.

I did my best to buoy his spirits and set a masterly pace. I felt a little sorry for the guy. He looked like he was in much better shape than me but when we got to the top of the first long hill he looked like he was going to die. We stopped at a grocery and had Cokes in the shade and he told me the story of his life. It sounded like he had had some rough breaks, girl troubles mostly. There but for the grace of God is not an unreasonable motto.

I had felt pretty good on the hill. My muscles were aching a bit. But it was nothing compared to the strength I got from watching that poor kid suffer. It made me feel like a superman, a class apart, a genuine professional walker. Of course I am not burdened by his legal and personal difficulties. All my problems are in my head.

I sent him on ahead and lingered at the grocery store to replenish my food supplies. I have been on something of a feed. Outside I met Tom with whom I had driven up high mountains in the dark and shot off guns. He is a quiet and thoughtful man but he has hidden depths. He told me about these lizard people who dominate world banking and live in the center of the earth. And about pole shifts and tidal waves and this big electromagnetic generator thingummy they got up in Alaska which was designed to track submarines but they can also use it to make people crazy and alter the weather. Some of his ideas are pretty far out but he seemed perfectly sincere. Thing is, I have heard all these things before. He wasn't making anything up.

I said my goodbyes at four and began my day's walk in earnest. I crossed the street to a taco stand and enjoyed a one-hour lunch. Then I walked for something like three hours. We can call it a twelve-mile day. That's not bad for my first day back. All of it was uphill. What's more, my feet felt terrific in their fancy new hiking boots. They enjoyed their rest and it is worth noting that today is the first day I have set out without so much as a band-aid on either of my feet. Just shoe and sock and pavement. I could not be any more pleased.

I could have gone further, easily, but the days, they are getting shorter. I found myself at the shop where a friend of a friend sells home gardening equipment. Lights, fertilizers, hydroponic pumps-- anything you think you might need. It had been agreed I could put my tent up here. As it was, that guy wasn't home and I wound up getting permission from his neighbor, a mad glassblower who makes beautiful pipes and bongs and other useful household items.

Turns out the two of them are having a feud and I may have pissed some people off by talking to the wrong hippie first. These things can get awfully complicated. All I can say is oops.

But here I am, snug in my tent, secure on private land overlooking Diamond Lake. Life ain't entirely bad. I had a bag of yogurt pretzels for dinner. I am very fond of yogurt pretzels.

Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.2

Day Twenty-Four and Day Twenty-Five, Horse Shoes and Hand Grenades

I am still holed up in Elk, Washington. It is my ancestral home. I love it here; there are ranches and trees. It's like that show Bonanza. And it's an odd kind of hippie paradise. I may just retire here.

I am still in my own personal Winnebago. People are starting to knock. I have been introduced around. Friend Chris has all kinds of kin. And I have met his gal and his beautiful daughter, flowers both among women. They permitted me to dine with them this evening. I made friends with their two handsome dogs and we had beefy noodles. And ice cream. It was a beautiful evening and everyone walked away fed. Cheers!

I did yesterday have every intention of leaving. I woke up feeling just fine. But I never really got around to going anywhere. It ain't entirely my fault. I did have to type up my memoirs which rather took a while. It had been an eventful night. Then Chris showed up and poured me a couple of beers and then Chet showed up and then it was all pretty much over.

Chet is a fellow about my age. He is drinking away his troubles. He has a Suzuki Samurai he bought for four-hundred bucks. He says it's a Chevy but I wasn't fooled. It lost its top in a wreck. He replaced the windscreen and welded in a roll bar. The two seats in back are exposed. The jagged chunk of sheetmetal that serves as a sort of roof sits at about eye level and threatens to take off your head. Chet likes to ride up there.

It was his plan, not mine; I've got walking to do. But I am after all a guest here. It was his idea that we drive his little truck up the nearly vertical side of a mountain, drink beer and shoot off guns. As it was that sounded pretty good to me. I guess it's a fairly typical entertainment around here, but it was to me all so very exotic.

Of course we couldn't just take off right away. We had to wait until dark. We went over and got Tommy and his delightful friend Carrie and we killed some time eating burgers and smoking and drinking and speaking of this and that. Tom does meticulous restorations of antique cars and is building his own log home. He's almost done. It's tall, two stories with a large covered porch on one end. Carrie rides a Harley painted 1950's green.

Carrie did the driving, God bless her. Tommy sat right next to her. Chet and I sat way in the back and smoked and drank all kinds of beer. We took pains not to start any forest fires and left all our empties for the Boy Scouts. We had little protection; I guess the idea was that we should be ready to leap to safety at any time but, I don't know, you kind of get settled in.

We started out on logging roads and moved to sled roads and from there on to no roads at all. Chet's idea was that we should go straight up the side, where no man had gone before. The Suzuki Samurai is a surprisingly capable little vehicle. I took a turn at the wheel and blasted right up what seemed very much like a straight up and down hill.

Getting down was the tricky part. "Come get your truck," I yelled. I slid all the way down on my butt and handed the keys back to Chet. It was pitch black and there were cliffs and drop offs. The stars were filling the sky. But at that point they were getting a little blurry so we decided to sit on a big rock and shoot off guns. No one could hit much at this point but a good time was had by all.

The next day I planned to help put in a horseshoe pit but that never really got going. So we smoked and drank and bullshitted a bit. Elk is an earthly paradise. People have an image of life in the country. They think it's all about drinking beer and zooming around in monster trucks and shooting off guns. Well, it is. And that's as it should be.

Find me now on the morning of day twenty-six, struggling to escape this magical place. As it is, I would just as soon stay.



Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.2

Monday, June 20, 2011

Day Twenty-Three, My Ancestral Home

I had some trouble getting up to steam. My heart wasn't in it all day. I had slept long and well; my feet were fine. The weather was mild and fair. But I could not walk more than an hour at a time without feeling I needed a rest. It went on like that until late afternoon when I stopped in a tavern for lunch.

No beer, mind; I know that doesn't help. Just a sandwich and a bowl of soup. It was there I met Ted, the septic man, "licensed to take your shit." I had been trying to give him my boots, my old ones still in my pack. They were taking up space and adding pounds and poking me in the back of the neck. I had some notion of shipping them home. They were, after all, almost new. But it was the weekend; the post offices were closed. I just wanted rid of the things. I kept my eye out for a charity box but in the end I thought I'd give them to Ted.

"Let me pay you for them," he says. That had not been my intention. But I had been worrying about money all day long and could muster only the feeblest protestations. He wound up giving me forty bucks. Now I don't know what the market for gently used footwear is in modern America, but I am guessing I got the better end of that deal. It was Ted's gentle way of wishing me luck and subsidising my expedition. He spotted me lunch, as well.

"You're young," he told me. It seemed to impress him. I wasn't feeling very young at all. When he was a young man, Ted and his wife had built a log cabin in the middle of nowhere. Miles from nowhere they brought everything in on their backs. They were hippies of some kind. But after twenty years his wife started making noise about having flush toilets so in deference to her he went out and became a successful businessman and a pillar of his community. And he knows more septic jokes than anyone you've ever met. I could have listened to him all day.

But it was back on the road. I was feeling encouraged. There was a new spring in step. Another thirteen miles and it would be a glorious day. I made it all of four. You see, Ted mentioned another bar up the road, a new place that had at one time been a restaurant/Winnebago park. He said they'd let me camp there if I dropped his name. Everyone knows Ted.

I had only come sixteen miles. My feet were more tender than sore. It was getting late but there was enough daylight to put in another five miles. But the place looked so horribly inviting and I was looking forward to a rest. I popped in a dropped Ted's name and they couldn't have been more decent about putting me up. I thought I'd celebrate with a beer.

There was a party going on. There is apparently liitle to do in Elk, Washington of a Sunday evening. All the best folk were there at the bar. It was like Roadhouse with Patrick Swayze but without all the murderous rage. I had come a day too late. The big Elk Days celebration was winding down. It is an occasion on which, as I understand it, the whole town goes on a three day bender. Only the very strongest remained.

There was a logger and a soldier and truck driver or two, and a philosophical ex-con. There was a genuine cowboy with a champion's belt; he was held together by pins. And an Indian, a mudbog racer, who taught be something about tribal governence and reservation life. One woman, I remember, sold insurance. She was a guest-pass Mormon with a sweet smile who would, every now and then, say something to make me blush.

But then I blush easy.

I learned about logging and cowboying and the benifits of having a sound personal financial strategy. I was treated like a friend. One beer led to two and two to two more and a good time was had by all. There was wrasslin' and coarse language. The one fistfight ended well. Everyone behaved more or less like brothers. I was the cousin from out of town.

"We are all pretty much related," one woman told me. The same familes haved lived around here for five or six generations. It occurred to me that I might be related to them, too. As it turns out I am from here. My grandfather spent his unhappy boyhood on a farm not five miles away. I spent my unhappy boyhood elsewhere, but we came to be great friends. "Mr. Pierce," he'd say. "Mr. Pierce," I'd say. And then we'd both laugh and laugh.

So this, you see, is my ancestral home. It is likely that in the reckless days of his youth my grandfather raced his Model T down the very roads I am walking today. And it ain't a bad place. I feel comfortable here and I've met some like-minded people. The only thing that could have made it better would be if they had nachos. And pie. And one of them lava lamps.

The Mulz'z Shed is my new favorite bar. On Highway 2 just down the road from Elk. It will be a landmark someday. The prices are good, the people are kind. They'll make you feel at home. Drop in for a beer if you get the chance. Tell 'em Ted sent you.

"We're gonna get Willie Nelson in here," says Chris, a partner in the bar. They've got a nice little stage and friendly crowd and a place to park his bus. I sure hope Willie does come. I think he would have a blast.

Find me now the next day in my own Winnebago, parked out behind the bar. It's the Japanese version on the Toyota chassis. I admired them when I was kid. The were so sleek compared to them big boxy full-sized jobbies. This was before I learnrd to worry they might be underpowered on hills.

I am half ashamed to confess I have never been in an RV before. They are really neat. This ain't even one of the larger ones and I've got all the comforts of home. There's a toilet, it ain't hooked up. There's a stove, it ain't hooked up either. But I slept like a princess on a double-wide cot, using my bag as a blanket. All the fresh air of a tent combined with the comfort of a hotel. I am still not sure I would like to pilot one of these things around America, at least not at four dollars a gallon, but I am beginning to see the point.

I woke up early and started typing. There seemed to be so much to say. But all you get are the high points. The joy was in the detail. There were tales of stabbings and heartache and brawls and a most ungentlemanly Elvis impersonator. But it was all too perfect, it was all too good. You'd think I was making it up.

I feel great. I could do with some Nachos. It's a beautiful warm spring day. But it's getting warm and I am feeling so well. I really ought to get walking. I had some intention of reaching Idaho today. That ain't going to happen. I'll click off a few and get some rest. Or I might just hang here all day.

Peace.

QUOTES:

"I'd rather be a lesbian than a cowboy." --from a cowboy who very much enjoyed being a cowboy

"Spokane sewers suck." --in a portable john at a disused set of truck scales, twenty miles north of Spokane. I had spent the day before wading through puddles and being splashed by passing cars. I couldn't agree more. But what amazed me was the fact that someone had carried this resentment so far out of town and written it in a toilet.

"I will make love to you." --bartender explaining what the consequences would be if he had to stop work and come around the bar to stop two men from fighting
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.1

PHOTO: Crossing the mighty Columbia

Too is pictured the "World's largest apple cold storage facility." I really would have liked to see it. It must be something if they built it its own cold stotage facility, with a railroad spur and everything. I once saw a peach as big as a grapefruit. I wonder if it's something like that.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.1

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Day Twenty-Two, Northbound

Made it all of a dozen miles today but I did get some shopping done. Borrowed money is too quickly spent but I will pay the piper someday. Or not; really, you never know. I may just keep walking forever.

Woke up in my dingy little motel after two or three hours of rest. I always have the damnedest time falling asleep indoors. It may be the cable TV. Or the soft bed or the roar of the fan or the neighbors drinking next door. Whatever the reason I could have done with more sleep, another eighteen or twenty hours.

There are many roads that lead into a city. Which you choose may color your view. In New Delhi, for example, there is a regular boulevard, lined with trees and garnished with flowers, leading from the airport to the halls of government. A visiting dignitary would be forgiven for believing he was in a modern efficient city. But two blocks over in any direction another story is told.

I believe I entered Spokane through the sewers, up the canal; in through the out door, as it were. The roads were narrow; the buildings were grubby; the whole place smelled like wet dog and prophylactic latex. Only late in the day did I realise the smells were coming from my raincoat and musty clothes. But by then it was too late. My opinions were formed. I had soured on poor Spokane.

I walked into town on a road with no shoulder in a rain that would not stop all day. I twas cold and my feet were horribly cramped when I arrived in a sort of Bowery. The people I passed seemed as homeless as me and had demons worse than my own. There were some pretty views, though. A river passes through town. And there was a splendid railroad bridge, ugly but nonetheless grand.

There is a magnificient waterfall in the center of town, not high but powerful. It generates enough electricity for a city of almost half a million people. That much I learned from a Scoutmaster who could have been more friendly, more courteous and kind. But the uniform goes to some mens' heads, seduced by their own tasselled socks.

I guess it's harder to be a bum in the city. In the country they take me more as I am. Good or bad, they know I'm a man of the road and are interested in where I've been. In the city they remain suspicious of me, perhaps burdened by the arrogant notion that I intend to stay. The longer I am out here, the wilder I look; but I am still polite and well-spoken. But that doesn't do me any good in a place where people think they know me at a glance. Or anyone, for that matter. Talk to people, for the love of Christ. I am a hobo with business cards. I hate that it makes a difference.

Gradually I came to meet more and more hipsters, young urban youth on the edge. The kind of people who frankly ruined Seattle and are all the more insufferable now that they are in their thirties and forties. I stopped into a trendy but comfortable cafe where they fed me like a king and my attractive young waitress broke my heart by calling me "sir".

From there I was on to REI, where I let an earnest young man called Jake talk me into a new pair of boots. My Wenatchee boots are showing noticable signs of wear. I needed something a bit firmer. And I needed something called "arch supports", if not a Zimmer frame. Old age, I suppose, has something to do with it. Being called "sir" is small compensation.

Young Jake was kind enough not to sell me the very most expensive boots he had, which is good because they can cost a fortune. And even these rugged specimens aren't going to last forever. He did, however, insist on selling me something in a size 13.

I am not superstitious but, by golly, I've worn eleven-and-a-halfs or twelves since I was sixteen years old. Now here I am at thirteen. Good God, what have I done to myself? I'm mutating. Jake says it's because my arches are in the wrong place and my toes need wiggle room. But were my arches always in the wrong place? Why didn't anyone tell me?

I had cherished the secret hope that if my body were to be at all changed by this adventure, I'd get them chiselled abdominal muscles like the fellows you see on TV. As it is I will be lucky to maintain an even vaguely human form. I'll be hideous. No one will ever love me.

I too picked up a new pair of pants and three pairs of quick-drying socks made out of sheeps from New Zealand. They're a little rough on my feet, to be honest. Kiwis are a hardy breed. I also got a fancy fast-drying towel and a stick of wax which, properly applied, will prevent me from chafing myself. And water purification tablets, for emergencies in Montana. I looked at long-sleeved shirts but didn't invest. I'll pay three times more for sunscreen.

I headed north out of town after long hours there. It just keeps raining harder. It got dark at six when I was still in the suburbs. I was worried I wouldn't find a place to camp. Find me now positioned precariously between Highway 2 and a chain link fence, behind a thin row of pines. It's a substantial fence, the kind put up by the federal government. Or yuppies. Who knows what it's meant to protect. I don't feel safe here at all.

MET: a very pretty girl at the REI who runs fifty miles a day, just for fun. She told me her name but I deliberately forgot it. I knew somehow it would haunt me.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.1

Day Twenty-One, Spokane!

I woke up at six-thirty but stayed in bed. It was awfully cold outside. I sat listening to the trucks roll by, gnawing on a cold hunk of bread. I had slept using that bread as a pillow. It did not warm it up much at all. The winds had been down when I put up my tent so I hadn't bothered staking it to the ground. Now they were howling and my tent was threatening to go tumbling end over end.

When I stop walking for a minute or an hour or, God forbid, eight hours' rest, my feet tend to cramp up some. I think they shrink a size and a half and grow thicker about the middle. The bones in my ankles get creaky and sore and my toes ball up into fists. It takes me about a mile to reach my full stride. It's the awfullest part of my day.

I am accustomed to pain. I embrace it. I love it. Pain is my oldest friend. I have been in more or less constant pain of one kind or another since the earliest days of my childhood. I laugh at pain; it tickles me. It's the fuel that drives my art. But I am not without some small sense of pride. I would keep my dignity. And limping along for that first half mile I feel like an absolute ass. Here I am supposed to be the big transcontinental walker and I look nothing short of feeble. I feel the pity from passing cars. It takes all the fun out of life.

But always I recover, sooner or later. Today it may have taken a bit longer. But when I rolled into Reardan at ten-thirty I was feeling on top of my game. Reardan is rather a pleasant little town. The houses are very well kept. The people are kind and the food is good. I had a very nice breakfast. I had some hope of visiting the library; perhaps they would let me use their computer. But it was closed so I was back on the road without my customary three hours' rest.

It was then I rather surprised myself. I felt good; I walked twelve miles non-stop to Fairchild Airforce Base. I was just outside the gate when I felt one of my toes explode. A blister had gone; it alarmed me somewhat, though I should be used to it by now. I was worried that if I stopped there some MP would shoot me in the head. I am a socialist, after all, and we are a nation at war.

But as it turned out there is a nice little park-like area, inside the fence but outside the gate where civilians can come to pick up their loved ones. I filled my water bottles at the visitors center and spent a relaxing ninety minutes on a green lawn, doctoring my feet and talking to some old hippie who was waiting for a bus.

He was about my age. He looked more or less like me. But smaller. His name was George. He said he was an indian but he didn't look like one. He was drinking beer and missing teeth and began every sentence by laughing and saying "Fuck, man...", which for some reason I find a very pleasant mode of conversation.

So cheers to Fairchild Air Force Base. They made me feel at home. I don't know what they do there, or even if I am meant to, but the word is it has something to do with "refueling". I must say I was a little disappointed with the base itself. I walked along their fence for an hour, peering in, but I guess they keep all their experimental spy planes and captured UFO technology in back where no one can see it.

From there it was down a bleak stretch of road known as Airway Heights. You see that same ugly highway outside of every airport in the world, but Spokane's has got to be the worst. I can't say what it was specifically, but gosh it's an awful place. There were the usual fast food places and dive hotels. Behind them were some horrible little houses. There too was, I think, a prison of some kind and some sort of factory pumping out foul chemical odors that burned my throat.

There were too a few farms but nowhere to camp. Find me now in a motor court motel. It has perhaps seen better days but, even with my Walking Across America discount, it is not cheap. Tomorrow it is into the city and from there, God knows where. There are high mountains on the not too distant horizon. Some of them have snow on them.

ACCOMPLISHED: 22 miles today. Respectable.
DINED: on the rest of my bread and a can of sardines I've been carrying for weeks (thanks Lee and Polly!). I'd been afraid to eat them in the mountains because I read that the only thing bears like to eat more than sardines is people who smell like sardines.
MET: a charming young woman called Perry who refilled my water bottles. She had freckles. I am consistently charmed by freckles.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.1

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Day Twenty, That's a Month in Some Countries

I am Here

Only fifteen or sixteen miles today, but I do come prepared with excuses. They are:

1) I slept long but not especially well on surprisingly hard ground. Also, a weakness in my character prevents me from knowing whether any one small patch of ground is level until I pitch my tent there and try to sleep on it for eight hours. I kept rolling out of bed. And it was cold. And my feet hurt. And I was lonesome in a healthy kind of way. I did get to hear the coyotes howl, so that was kind of cool. It is eery but not particularly scary. It makes me feel like a cowboy.

2) The wind was howling again when I finally woke up, which made taking down my tent look like one of the misadventures of Lucy and Ethel. It is built on much the same principles, and of the same materials, as your higher-end box kites and more than once threatened to abandon me for the next county.

3) As I hit the road the skies grew dark and a cold and bitter wind blew. It threatened to rain but never quite did, preferring to leave me in dread. By time I got to Davenport I was very very cold.

4) Davenport was not, as I imagined, some five-odd miles away but was rather some six-odd miles away, that extra mile making all the difference. It is slowly beginning to dawn on me that my feet cramp up awfully overnight and that my longer runs are best saved for later in the day. Just now I walked three hours straight and I felt fine, but that two hours in the morning almost crippled me.

5) Drinking two-and-a-half gallons of icy root beer on a blustery day can rather chill a fellow. I was worried the caffeine was keeping me up nights but maybe I ought to switch back to Coke.

6) Lunch was not absolutely all I hoped it would be; it wasn't quite up to my standards. Mostly it made me want to poop. Now for the longest time I have known that when I am sleepy or hungry or otherwise fail to have my immediate physical needs met, I can get a little cranky. But all shivery and having to poop, I was in a very bad mood indeed. If I wasn't a bit shivery and didn't have to poop now I wouldn't be burdening you with any of this. Anyway, in my condition I was determined not to walk another step. To accomplish this I had to double back through almost the whole little town of Davenport to get to a motel I passed on the way in. It was a seedy little place with all sorts of nastily worded signs saying "No smoking! This means you!"

Now I had no intention of smoking in their poxy little motel, but frankly I did not like their tone. All I wanted was a place to poop and soak my feet, maybe turn up the heater and watch a few movies on cable. Anyway, they were closed and now I was really cold and footsore and I really really had to poop and thought I just might have to cry. There was a bed & breakfast and though I have never been to one of those places they sound awful and things weren't as bad as all that.

Then I found a laundromat and had a very nice poop there, thank you. And I took off all my clothes and put on my swim trunks and a clean shirt and washed every overripe item I had. And I talked to a nice local lady who drove a Saab, a car I have always admired because it is elegant yet peculiar.

It is very nice to have clean clothes. Never take them for granted. By the way, I still haven't heard back from those jerks at the Super 8. Man, that pisses me off.

7) I never did find a good place to charge up my little computer. Them Davenporters is stingy with their outlets. I did get fifteen or twenty minutes at a bakery where I bought a maple bar and to go, a perfectly lovely loaf of bread. But it wasn't enough. Having anything less than a full charge weighs heavily on me and slows my steps.

8) I took my time folding my clothes and doctoring my feet and reorganising my pack. It was four when I finally left town. And I felt good and strong and I was making good time but then, about three miles shy of Reardan I noticed a good many farmhouses, closer and closer to the road which meant I wouldn't find a good place to sleep until I was through town and out the other side, by which time I would be overtired and it would be quite dark.

So here I am, on another grassy hill overlooking the same highway, three-and-a-half miles outside of Reardan, Washington. By this time tomorrow I should be on the outskirts of Spokane and I guess staying in a motel because Spokane is a big city and its outskirts probably don't offer much room for a tent. There is a big Air Force base there so I am hoping rooms will be cheap.

I have conquered eastern Washington. Peace.

SPOTTED: No snakes today but I did see three yesterday. Two were squooshed, not rattlers but every bit as foul. I am glad they're dead. The third was that harmless sort of garden snake they have everywhere, the vile, hateful, disgusting little beast. God, I hate snakes. They ruin Nature for everyone.

PASSED: By dozens of cyclists. They weren't carrying any gear. I guess they get that trucked ahead for them. All they had was their little water bottles and their garish jerseys and their foo-foo little shorts. Almost none of them ever say hi. Bunch o' jerks.

Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.1

PHOTOS, Dry Falls and the Road To Wilbur


Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.1

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Coasties

Here in the east, people from western Washington are known, somewhat derisively, as "Coasties". A woman wanted to know what we called them.

"We don't call you anything." I told her the truth. "We don't even think about you."
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.1

Day Nineteen, Looking Up

I walked I guess twenty miles today. I could have easily gone two or three more. But it started to rain in cold fat drops just as I was passing a pretty good campsite. Find me now five or six miles outside of Davenport, Washington on a grassy hill overlooking the highway. The rancher whose land I am guessing this is can see me from his kitchen window, half a mile away. I'm hoping he'll understand.

I slept long and awfully well last night, although it was fearfully cold. I put on my thermals and Himalayan hat and zippered in right to the top. I have got a lot of laundry which makes a nice pillow and it doesn't stink so very much yet. Usually I toss and turn quite a bit but I had some very soft ground. I could sleep on my side, a rare luxury, and stayed out for nearly nine hours. What dreams I had were in Japanese, a peculiar language to dream in.

It took me a good two hours to hike to Creston, a very friendly little town. People have seemed colder since I crossed the river and I was afraid that was all I had to look forward to. Over breakfast I listened to a farmer discussing business with his chemical supply agent. It was very interesting. She wanted to know what he was growing in what rotation and how far apart his plants were and what sort of equipment he was using and why and when he applied this concoction or that and in what measure and so on. I didn't understand half of it. I hope I get a chance to talk to a farmer before this trip is over. It is as much art as it is science and I have hundreds of questions.

I got a turkey sandwich to go to have for my dinner but I am afraid it wound up as my lunch. Turkey and tomato and onions on dark rye bread. Gosh, it was good. Could have been bigger and it did little to warm be as I was at a rather bleak little rest area just getting pummelled by twenty-some mile an hour winds. The warming sun disappeared behind clouds and there was lightning to the south. I had fantasised about washing my hair there but instead I spent three hours resting my feet and shivering.

Shivering can be a little scary out here. When I stop walking my body temperature drops a couple of degrees almost instantly and if I drink some cold water it drops a couple more. There was no place really out of the wind and if I hadn't thought to put on my raincoat I would have gone all hypothermic. There was a fellow there resting in his Volvo and I thought about asking if I could sit in there with him but I guessed that would be sort of creepy. So he sat there watching me suffering, playing his radio too loud.

Sometime today, just out of Creston, I think, I left the farmland behind. I turned the corner and went down a small hill and suddenly there they were... trees! Rather sorry looking little trees, some kind of pine, stunted and thinnish and scrubby. Individually they almost make the landscape seem drier but in their numbers they are a welcome sight. I am in now, I guess, ranch country. All kinds of fences here. The land is covered with grasses and sage and is very rough with rocks and little valleys. There are all sorts of places for a clever little cow to hide when market time approaches.

For most of the day the sky was black in columns to the east and south, but as I left the rest area the winds died down and the sun came out and all the blackness moved to the north. The rest of the sky was a gentle blue and the world was absolutely glowing. It was beautiful and I could take it all in because my feet felt wonderful.

I don't mean to say they weren't hurting; they hadn't bothered me much all day. I don't know what they are playing at but I think they heard me muttering something about amputation. But leaving the rest stop, after half a mile to get the cramps out, they began to feel great. I was up to my old four mile an hour pace and every step sent waves of pure pleasure up and down my spine. I don't know what to call it, the Ecstasy of Death.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.1

Birdsong

This would be a great adventure for a bird watcher. I am seeing new ones every day. I'll be damned if I know what to call any of them. I know some of them are hawks.

Since I left Wenatchee the most common seems to be a black bird with bright red on his wings. I've taken to calling him a red-winged blackbird and intend to copyright the name as soon as I get to town.

Today as I passed one sitting on a fence post he chirped at me most malignantly. So I chirped rght back at him, using the same intonation. And what do you think he did?

He let loose with the foulest string of curses you have ever heard in any language. That's the thing about birds. People think they're singing, that it's beautiful; Nature in all her glory. But if you understood you would know that all birdsong comes down to one of two things. It's either "My tree! My tree! Go 'way! Go 'way! Go 'way!" or "Hey, baby! Hey, baby! Hubba-hubba!" Or suggestions still cruder than that.

Birds are scum.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.1

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Day Eighteen, Devil Podiatry

There comes a time, really, when enough is absolutely enough. I mean, I am trying to stay positive about the whole experience. I have been willing to suffer for my art. But I have been working on the assumption that sooner or later my feet would get over their whining and their complaining and their out-and-out sabotage and toughen up and join the team. Haven't I been good to them? I've spent hundreds on shoes and outfitted them in the very best of sock. Hours a day I am babying them, cutting away the odd bit of dead flesh and soothing them with all manner of ointments and powders. I bandage them and tape them and swath them in moleskin and yet, what thanks do I get?

Treachery, cruel treachery, blisters upon blisters, knife wounds and heartache and pain. Puss and seepage and raw bloody stumps. Cracked heels and misaligned toes. Agonies adding up over miles and robbing me of a night's sleep. Gritted teeth and sweating temples and chills up and down my spine. And for what?

My feet aren't even my favorite body part. My hair is smooth and flowing and always looks good. My eyes are a piercing blue. My navel is deep; my shoulders are broad; my ears convey chimp-like wisdom. There are other bits I can spend hours with, that have brought me nothing but joy. Some bad advice here and there, sure, but I could always tell they had my best interests at heart.

It is not as if I am new to walking. I have been putting in an extra ten miles a day, six days a week for years. I've Walked Across America a dozen times in cities all around the world. I have always looked forward to a long healthy walk. It brings justification to my being alone.

So why now should my feet choose to betray me? Is it because I have an odd goal in mind? Is it because I am walking in more or less a straight line rather than in broad sweeping circles around my empty home? Is it because they are taking me away from something or to a place I dare not imagine? Or are they just being ornery?

No doubt many of you have good advice for me, hard-won knowledge from many a Sunday stroll. Frankly, I don't want to hear it. You'd be better off going into marriage counselling or putting your hand in a dogfight. This is between my feet and me and it won't be over until one of us is all but dead. Next time I meet a podiatrist I'm going to kick his ass on principle.

Twice.

In spite of it all I did put in some miles today, how many I cannot be certain. I guess I am in that three percent of America that Verizon, even on its most boastful days, does not claim to cover. Fear not, I haven't been mooshed or eaten. I am just somehow out of touch. It isn't the first time. It won't be the last. Bear with me in my obscurity.

I am guessing I am five miles outside of Creston, camped somewhat askew on the grassy slope of an irrigation ditch. I am visible to cars passing over the bridge, but they would have to know what to look for. It ain't a bad spot; I feel safe here. I can hear the howling of coyotes. The winds they promised did not come today. I am much better off without them.

I woke up early in the farmer's field and was on the road just after seven. It wasn't only my fear of being mutilated by a tractor or its rotating disk attachments that jarred me awake. It was in fact blasted hot. In my rush to pack up I took away a measure of his good topsoil, but not as much as I kept from blowing away the night before.

I had visions of an easy five or six mile walk to Almira, a hearty breakfast and a chance to rub shoulders with the locals. Alas, it wasn't to be. The road lead uphill, my feet were rebelling, and Almira, even after it appeared on the horizon, kept getting further away. When I finally did arrive there was no cafe and the local farmers were all too busy to entertain me. I wound up buying a root beer and a Snickers bar at a sort of tractor parts warehouse and eating alone under a tree.

But the tree was a blessing and a rare one, too. There aren't a whole lot of them out here. You can go miles, hours even, without seeing so much as one. Now and then you will see one somewhere out ahead. It is as often as not a mirage.

But this isn't a desert; there a miles of farms growing wheat and possibly potatoes. East of Wenatchee as the farms have blue signs, I guess put up by the state, telling you exactly what is in each field. Every one is different. One will say blueberries, then bosc pears, then asparagus, then potatoes, then wheat. All of it thriving and beautiful. It is the sort of place they liked to drag the Soviet premier to when he came visiting as if to say, "If you weren't such a godless commie, you could have all this too."

But here it's just wheat, for the most part, miles and miles of wheat. It's pretty in its way. The skies are huge and viewed from the right angle, the fields look like the softest green lawn. In the morning the
mountains I crossed to get here were still just visible on the horizon. In the afternoon I spent a diverting half hour watching a crop duster at work. He banks sharply and skims just over the ground in a sporty little yellow plane. I am sure it means working with dangerous chemicals. It is still a pretty cool way to make a living.

I didn't enjoy any of it as much as I should because of my blasted feet. When I got to Wilbur, a good-sized town, after a ten or twelve mile run I could barely walk at all. I had a hearty lunch, stripped off my frankly gruesome socks and lounged in a park for five hours. The idea was to put in another eight before turning in. I made it all of two and a half.

It was oppressively warm when I put up my tent. Now it is all but freezing. But tomorrow, they say, is another day. Sometimes I wish they'd shut the hell up.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.1

Monday, June 13, 2011

Day Seventeen, An Ill Wind

I woke up at five-thirty to a dog barking from the cliff right above my tent. I couldn't imagine what he was doing up there, so many miles from anywhere. Most dogs like their comforts, I thought. Most dogs have more sense. But he was mad as hell at something, either at me or the world in general. The sound of his own voice echoing off the rocks made him madder still.

Funny thing is, though I recognised the voice of a smallish dog, he was speaking a language I had never heard before. He was speaking coyote. I decided to go back to sleep. If he came down and started chewing on my tent, I would worry about that then. I wasn't going to confront him. After an hour he began to get hoarse. I woke up again at eight-thirty.

Which as you know means I wasn't back on the road until ten, barely better than motel time. I hiked half a mile to the dry falls interptetive center, a beautiful modern building, perched on the edge of a cliff. What an interesting place. They have a number of displays and video presentations explaining how, at some point in the late ice age, a big old ice dam formed in Montana and created a huge lake. After a few years, the water got tired of being all dammed up and let loose with the Missoula Flood. It sent hundreds of millions of gallons blasting across the land at sixty miles per and pretty much annihilated the western half of what is now Washington State. It carved all the rock cliffs I am so fond of and is responsible for all our good farm land.

This happened almost instantly and not so many years ago. I think there were people here then. And really big sloths. The guy that figured all this out was a geologist called Bretz. All the other geologists spent forty years laughing at him and calling him names and otherwise endeavoring to make him feel poorly about himself. Then when he was ninety they sent him a telegram admitting he was right. I hope he told them to go F themselves.

A ranger there told me that yes, coyotes do bark, usually when they misplace their pups. The nice lady at the shop gave me a free root beer because I am Walking Across America. I think she was a Republican. I have to learn to stop talking politics until I get to Manhattan.

From their I hiked a few miles to Coulee City which was smaller than I imagined it. I arrived at noon, just in time to hear What a Friend We Have in Jesus played several times through on electronic church bells. I had lunch and met a nice man named Jerry, a retired electrical engineer. Years ago he rode his bicycle from Portland to San Francisco. "When you get old," he told me, "don't brag about this trip too much. People will get sick of listening to your stories."

I heard him, I did, and I understood, but I think people are going to have to get used to it. Of course, there are other things I hope to accomplish after this. I will brag about them, too. Sort of mix it up a little. Keep things fresh.

Jerry jumped in his car and scouted the next twenty miles of road for me. I am a back on highway two in a fairly unpopulated part of the state and am a little concerned about food and water sources. "Nothing until Wilbur," he told me. I should reach there tomorrow afternoon.

My feet are hurting in new and exotic ways, and the road moved steadily uphill. It was still a nice walk. It isn't too hot and every now and then one brave cloud would block out the sun over a thousand acres. A wind came up and blew from behind me. It didn't help but I thought it was nice.

But as I walked the wind got stronger and stronger until it blew at upwards of twenty miles an hour, mostly from the west but now and again a rogue draft would catch me sideways and knock me half off my feet. I finally stopped, some five miles west of Almira, thinking a low spot in a fallow field would offer me some protection. It didn't. This is the first time I have used my tent pegs. I have often thought of discarding them. But they are now all that prevents me from being blown forever away.

MET: Two deer, as I was leaving my campsite in the morning. They came out of the scrub fifteen paces away and lookex at me, ears up, as if to say, "Don't you know you're not supposed to camp here?"

And a white-bearded vagrant on a bicycle, riding from Missouri to Seattle to visit his son. He called to me when I was in my tent. I thought he was the farmer come to yell at me. He told me we are in the age of the mark of the beast and not to be shy about dumpster diving. Safeway, he says, is best.

HEARD: Just now, coyotes howling.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.1

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Day Sixteen, Gathering Steam

Today I put in a leisurely eighteen miles and am none the much worse to show for it. No records were broken but my toes stayed in line and it is another small chunk off the whole. I am healing or learning to conquer my pain. I may be at last growing stronger. I had been weakening for the past several days and it had me a little concerned.

I woke up early in a motel room, wondering just where I was. That's a feeling I had not yet had on trip. It was for a few moments frightening. I calmed my nerves with a sandwich and a jug of ice cold root beer. Both of these I had bought the day before on the shores of Soap Lake, Washington.

The sandwich came from an interesting place, the European Grocery/Deli. It is run by a couple from Ukraine. His English was thin; hers was a bit better; they were friendly people both. They had a display case bursting with sausages and cheeses and all manner of delicacies. There were cookies and crackers and tins of meat, all labelled in cyrillic. There was chocolate and ice cream and everything good. It all seemed so very exotic. It reminded me of one of those special stores in Soviet Russia where only the top party bosses were allowed to shop, while everyone else stood in endless lines for single rolls of rough toilet paper.

Anyway, so nourished, I was out the door at eleven, or what I've come to think of as "hotel time". I was not at all eager to begin. Yesterday had been a terrible day and I was in no mood for more of that. As it was, my toes did sting for the first couple miles and I did have an unhappy ankle. I was carrying a good gallon and a half of water, a good deal more than I needed. I had filled my jugs at a public spigot in town and only realised too late that what I had got was the healing water of Soap Lake. It is said it will cure you of just about anything, specifically Buerger's disease, but it tastes like Elliott Bay at low tide.

With that dumped out I still had a half gallon of good water and my pack was eight pounds lighter. I felt great. There was for the first time in days a small spring in my step as I followed highway seventeen up past Soap Lake, Little Soap Lake, Lenore Lake, Alkali Lake, Blue Lake and Park Lake. Some two million years ago they were all part of one mighty river. They are long and narrow and run between high crumbling rock cliffs. There is no one on them but a few fishermen here and there and a few thousand squawking gulls. The road runs right along the water. It is a starkly beautiful place. I am glad I came this way.

I stopped to talk to Jimmy and Ralph, fishermen from Auburn, Washington. They each had a tiny pontoon boat, powered by an electric motor. From them I learned that fish very much like creamed corn but it is not sporting to give them any. They gave me good advice for my trip. "You're going to die," said Jimmy. He repeated it several times.

At the Blue Lake Resort RV Park, an oasis, a paradise, I met Karen and her husband Donald, retired truck drivers from Vashon Island, the scene of my earliest memory. They came with Heidi, their tiny little dog, to do a little fishing themselves. From Karen I learned that President Obama is just ruining the country and that you can't trust anyone living east of the Mississippi. Best of luck to all you guys.

Find me now in Sun Lake State Park, camping, I guess, illegally. I wanted to go to the campground but it would have meant following a little road down to the bottom of a hill I had just spent an hour walking up. Sorry guys, I know you need the money. I just didn't have the heart.

DISCOVERED: A new mammal, a small brown ferret-like creature, yet undiscovered by man. "Oh, those are rockchucks," a lady told me. I was going to call them 'James weasels'.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.7.1

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Day Fifteen, This Little Piggy

I had a big breakfast, a James burger. It must have been one o'clock. I had been all morning doctoring my feet in a Rite-Aid parking lot. It's a nice way to meet people.

A James burger--I had ordered blindly, I just liked the name--turned out to be two thickish ground beef patties, a deep-fried Polish sausage, onions, mushrooms, Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and a slab of deep-fried ham, all on a sesame seed bun. It came with a pound or two of thick-cut fried potatoes. I ate it with a knife and fork. I was just getting a steam on when the chef arrived at my table. "Forgot your bacon," he says. He handed me two thick strips on a plate. I added them to the pile.

I was until two weeks ago a vegetarian. I had been for eight long years. I thought it would polish my karma somehow and make me a better person. But I am still the same sour shit and a little extra protein never hurt anyone.

It has not done my toes much good, though. Don't mind if I share the details. The thick skin on my little toes, developed over years of hiking an extra ten miles a day, has been so pinched and overheated that it has separated from the toe itself and, with a few artful snips of my nose hair scissors, it can be removed whole, inside out like a sock. What remains is the fresh bright pink new skin within. It is papery and still very tender.

I understand snakes go through a similar process. That is why they are so mean.

Because it hurts, I tell you, like the worst kind of toothache. It hurts like a broken heart. It spreads up into your muscles and bones and makes them cold and numb. And it can't be bandaged or braced against. All you can do is suffer.

And walk. I did walk. I walked. I did. I made it a full seven miles. It was my worst day yet but I got to the point where I couldn't go another step. And I checked into a hotel. Again. I am spending far too much money. And I am moving slower and slower each day and America keeps getting bigger.

I have made it as far as Soap Lake, Washington, back into the sage brush again. Soap Lake advertises its healing waters, a la Baden-Baden. They contain all manner of minerals and some sort of fishy oil. They too are home to parasites which, if not promptly rinsed off, will leave you covered in itchy red bumps and, I wish to golly I was making this up, "barnacles".

I was torn as to whether to avail myself of this opportunity. On the one hand I could do with a little magic healing. On the other I have open wounds on my feet. I did wade in for a little while and I felt ridiculous. One doesn't always know how to behave in healing waters. How long are you supposed to stay in? Are they like holy water where a drop or two does the trick or are you really supposed to soak? There were people around so I just sort of stood there, up to my ankles, gazing at the horizon and trying to look philosophical. I gave it five minutes and left. Healing waters kind of stink.

I cannot say they have done me any noticable good. Tomorrow I will soldier on. James burgers must be earned.


MET, at a crossroads outside of Soap Lake, Mr. Wilson, a very old man. He wore a green plaid jacket and a black cowboy hat. He drove a big sedan. "You'll get there faster if you jog," he advised me. "What are you, some kind of idiot?"

I don't guess Mr. Wilson does much internetting, but God bless you, you grumpy old fart.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.9