Sunday, October 30, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Fifty-Six, Illinois!

I woke exhausted. I'm not sure why. I have not overstrained. I slept fairly soundly, as best I recall, and I managed to stay plenty warm. Just lazy, I guess. That's the nature of things. I climbed back up to the road.

I had managed to find a nice place for my tent, in a wood behind a church. Services were already up and running when I limped through their parking lot. There weren't many cars there but there were quite a few. I was tempted to go inside. As a very small boy I did go to church. I remember there were blueberry pancakes.

Which in themselves should have been more than enough to put me on a more righteous path. I don't think they had anything to do with the worship, but they were my favorite thing about the place. The rest was all songs that I didn't know and words I did not understand. I was but two or three or four. My soul was still fairly clean.

This morning it was the warmth of the place that I wanted. I do not speak figuratively. But it seemed like a fairly self-serving reason to enter the House of God. And I am looking a little ratty these days. I smell perhaps even worse. In the future when I am really rich I'll send them fifty bucks.

And a crate of blueberries. And a banjo. Joyful noise, indeed.

My new shoes really let in the wind. I've had this pair before. But I don't remember them being so airy in June or July in Montana. But my feet generate some heat of their own. So will a compost heap. I have no doubt they will be warm enough, as long as it doesn't rain.

Like yesterday it did warm up. The sun did emerge from the clouds. And put me in a peculiar mood, like I knew where I was going. Or what I was doing or why or how. As if Life in all of its mysteries had suddenly begun to make sense.

I think I had a slight fever.

Cities do have some logic to them. They all grow along similar lines. I've been in and out of enough of them that the road seemed familiar to me. Cape Girardeau butts right up against Jackson. They are separated by that one patch of woods. Then come miles of mini-malls on the edge of the city itself. As I've stated elsewhere I've been walking for years, but always in this town or that. Walking through the suburbs made me feel oddly at home.

I've joked some about being homeless, but homeless in fact I am. All this walk does is give me an excuse. I don't know what I'll do when it's done. I am 42 and at least half mad. I have no ties to anywhere. I've been kind of hoping I'd reach a town where I felt I belong. Then I'd move there and find for myself some kind of work. I don't really have any skills. Rare are the opportunities to be paid for speaking your mind.

You know what job I'd be really good at? You'll think I am being a goose. But I think I have almost all that it takes to be a good minister. I have a good memory. I like to read. I am most comfortable when on stage. I like helping people and I can write. I can extend metaphors. I can find all the meanings within a text. I can educate and persuade. I can joke and be serious. I wear small authority well. My sins have been many and colorful. Yours would not dismay me.

The pay's good enough. I would never grow rich, but no one would expect me to. The only downside I can see is my utter lack of faith. That and my inadvertent tendency to really piss people off.

I did not make it far into Cape Girardeau before I stopped for breakfast. It was my intention to eat but once today and this place looked really cheap. It was in the parking lot ofa discount motel. There were plenty of people there. I made a solemn promise to mention it by name, but I don't recall what that name was.

I am trying to make a few dollars last until next month. I ordered less than has been my wont. Biscuits and gravy without all the fixin's. They're designed to fill you up. And I fell into conversation with some men at the next table, one of whom gave me cash.

I have accepted donations before. They have been a real help. I feel a little guilty about it. There are more deserving causes. But I can see how what I am doing might be inspiring. It has rather inspired me. They're helping me and I'm helping them. I'm letting them share my dream.

But today it sort of embarrassed me. Because I was truly in need. There is no shame, they say, in poverty, but they are full of shit. Poverty is among the worst and most soul-killing humiliations. Don't think for a moment it's not. And mine is of a lighter kind. I'll eat well on the first of the month.

Really well. I'm a-gonna stuff myself. And then I will have some pie.

Cape Girardeau, Missouri is a college town, home of Southeast Missouri U. It calls itself the City of Roses, though they all died some years back. It is pleasant enough, home to rich and poor. It has a few nice parks. I made my way up to the campus and parked at the library.

Believe me or don't, I'd have rather been walking. I was in a good walking mood. But my little computer was undercharged. I wanted pictures of the river. And these nightly reports mean something to me. Without them I'd as soon stayed at home. Few experiences mean much to me until I can joke about them.

Semo, they call it, is a mid-sized school. It has buildings both old and new. It is earnest, I believe, but not over-achieving. I felt very comfortable there. Which is more than I can say of my own college, or any of those that I've dabbled in here and there. I guess it helps that I'm older and stronger and wiser and a little less frightened of people.

Don't get me wrong. It's still an issue. You folks scare the crap out of me.

I spoke with a young man waiting outside. He did not honor me with his name. He is studying something or other. I forget precisely what. Green Energy Management, or something like that. It did rather impress me. I hope he goes on to save the planet and gets himself rich on the way.

I envied him his focus in life. He seemed like a really good kid. I wonder if he knows that college is fun. I didn't figure that out til later.

The library smelled like a library, and a college library too. I sat in there for hours and hours. I'm still not fully recharged. Less so now after these ramblings. Damn my driveling muse. I hate to be chained to an electrical outlet with winter fast on its way.

I did pry loose eventually and made my way through the rest of the town. I very much wanted to visit the waterfront, recommended by a kayaking gentleman. But it was late and I hadn't walked much at all. I had to find my bridge. I'll be back to Cape Girardeau, one of these days, I swear.

I found the bridge after asking directions of a pretty young man. In the less affluent part of town. He was wearing a long pink wig. And a miniskirt and a bustier. I must say he looked pretty hot. I told him he looked "fabulous". I think that is the right word. He giggled and blushed most becomingly. I thanked him and moved on.

There was no walkway across the bridge. There was a wide shoulder. And it was a clear day and traffic was light. It wasn't so awfully bad. I had hoped to spend more time gazing at the river; it is a milestone of sorts. The second of my halfway points. The continental divide was the first.

But Illinois beckoned. I was starving by then. So much for eating just once. I determined to stop at the first place I found and eat whatever they had. But first I had to cross a wide flood plain. I say flood because it still looked wet. In other places there were withered crops. I think they were lilypads.

It was a barren place. A place you see underwater when the Mississippi spils over its banks. With barns poking up and soggy cows clustered where there is high ground. And what I'd been sure was a restaurant or convenience store turned out to be a strip club.

Now I like naked ladies as much as the next guy. More, if you want a debate. I cherish every long hour I have spent in their company. But what I really wanted was something to eat, and without a cover charge. I walked on.

For what seemed like miles across that sad plain. I could see civilisation ahead. It turned out to be another strip club. What is it with these people? I mean, damn, it is the middle of nowhere. Who knew pre-verts commute.

I turned south on Highway Three. I resigned myself to not getting fed. Poop. It is good economy but it makes my muscles ache. This road ran up the length of a swamp, a proper swamp on both sides of the road. With some of the most interesting litter I have seen on this trip yet.

One of the strip clubs features an Adult Superstore, selling all manner of novelties. Decorative, mechanical, even pneumatic. You name it, you can get it there. And these shoppers, they're like kids at Christmas. They can't wait til they get home. So they rip open the boxes these things come in and huck them out the windows of their cars.

Make a boy blush, some of it. Lordy.

I put up my tent a few miles down, right beside a bridge. On a closed road; the bridge is out of service. There is some equipment about. There may or may not be workers here tomorrow. The worst they can do is tell me to move. The trains are goimg by across the river. It is cold but I'm warm enough. Goodnight.

THE WARMEST THANKS to the good Mr. Volkerding, for his generosity and his timing.
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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Fifty-Five, Goodnight, Missouri! I Love Ya!

When it is cold my tent doesn't vent quite right. It gets wet from my own hot breath. This morning that condensation had crystalised into a layer of snow. But prettier, and I didn't mind. A few shakes and it came right off. A few degrees warmer and I would have had to pack up a soggy tent.

My fingers got a little cold. When I woke up I was smiling. I have a fine sense of the ridiculous. I immediately got the joke. That it should be so cold and I should be outside somehow tickled me. I can laugh at myself. It was freezing outside. What's not funny about that?

It is my usual practice to pack up slow. I'll do this or that. Then I'll sit for five minutes and contemplate. Sometimes I comb my beard. But this morning, though I worked steadily, it took me just as long. My molecules had gone a bit sluggish. I had started to solidify.

It was still cold when I hiked up to the road, across a frosty field. I worried about my brittle toes. I was not sure they were still attached. But it promised to be a beautiful day, and was by nine or ten. The air was cold but the sun was warm, and the sun did not disappoint.

I've got a blister between my toes. I'm limping on a bad ankle. I've been feeling a bit feverish and not just a little chafed. But I was walking strong. I took my last aspirin. No doubt that helped some. I enjoyed a comparatively pleasant walk, seven miles to Millersville.

I stopped once to eat the sandwich the kid gave me yesterday. The one I'd had the night before was bologna and strawberry jam. Or possibly ketchup. I cannot be sure. I gobbled it up in the dark. But this time in a nod to tradition he had used mustard instead.

Thank you, young sir. I'm a sandwich maker myself. I applaud your generous and imaginative efforts.

Millersville, Missori is represented by one gas station/store. Where I enjoyed a modest lunch that was not altogether bad. It featured pickle chips, pickle slices, battered and then deep fried. They are a lot better than you might guess. I worried about them though. They were sour, of course, but spicy as well. I feared they might upset my tummy.

I loitered a while and tried to recharge. My tummy turned out to be fine. I continued on to Jackson, Missouri, an easy eight miles away. There were plenty of hills but I was strong. It was an awful pretty day. I felt cheerful. That is worth mentioning. Mine is rather a gloomy soul.

Outside town I met a truck driver. His shirt said he was from Seattle. But his wife's shirt said Nebraska. That was where they are from. They were looking for a place to park their rig while they went to visit Mom. I like truck drivers and Nebraskans both. They had my full sympathy. It reminded me of my own sorry efforts to find a place for my tent.

Checking my map I had one small concern. I was getting too close to Cape Girardeau. Which is, comparatively speaking, a pretty big town. I hoped to buy shoes there. But it is big enough that I should try to stop short, while I am still out in the country. Otherwise it might get tricky. Cities are hard to walk through.

I decided to linger a bit in Jackson, a big enough town in itself. It is named for Andrew Jackson, who caught the bloody British at the Battle of New Orleans. They ran through the briars and they ran through the brambles and they ran through the bushes where a rabbit couldn't go. They ran so fast that the hounds couldn't catch 'em, down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico.

I believe he also slaughtered the Seminole, most heroically. This was before there was any stigma attached to what we now call ethnic cleansing. I think the Trail of Tears was his idea. He thought they deserved an outing. He was either for or against the National Bank and, unique among our early Presidents, had very messy hair.

Jackson, Missouri seems tidy enough. I passed along the edge of town. And found a discount shoe store selling factory seconds and such. Every now and then, and God bless them for it, those hard-working Chinese orphans will use too much glue or sew the Nike Swoop® upside down. They ship these atrocities to Jackson.

I got a great pair of shoes, ones I've had before, but for quite a bit less than half price. They aren't as heavy as I wish they were. They don't even pretend to be waterproof. The wind sails through their cooling mesh. I couldn't be better pleased.

I hate, I mean hate, I mean purely detest, shopping in all its forms. But shopping for shoes is the very worst. It's how I thought I'd spend tomorrow. But I found a great shop and saved a fortune. So what if my feet will be cold. I had a small snack to celebrate. I had done something good.

Or so I thought. I'd miscalculated. I used up this month's funds. So now I'm going to starve to death. Live and learn, I say.

I figured this out at the Burger King. I should have saved that burger for tomorrow. This nonsense of eating twice a day is going to be my end. And a grumpy old Republican and his delightful wife told me that my bridge across the Ohio is out. So now I'm going to have to walk to Paducah, home of Jefferson Exodus Poindexter.

Aw, hell. I'll figure it out. At least I am warm tonight. It is meant to drop to the mid-thirties. Balmy. Balmy, I say.

I AM CAMPED in the woods behind a church. I kid the Christians, I do. But as a rule they have been good to me. Let's hope they're the friendly kind. Because I'll be stumbling into their parking lot just when they're all arriving to All-ages Sunday School. I may need to have my trespasses forgiven.

I AM NOW just the tiniest bit ill. I hope it wasn't the deep-fried pickles.

IT HAS FOR years now been my practice to capitalise the word "Internet." No one else does. I am right and they are wrong.

I BELIEVE that's Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, but I couldn't say for sure. Poor, don't you know.
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Day One-Hundred-Fifty-Four, Clean Living

It is meant to be bitter cold tonight, some degrees less than freezing. Which would no doubt kill a lesser man. I am content just to suffer. And grumble a bit. I may shiver some. I might shed a few lonesome tears. But in the end I intend to survive. Death for me holds no appeal.

I woke up at six. That's early for me. My good host had to go to work. At the sawmill, though he is a poet at heart. One day he'll be a walker. We did manage to empty a beer or two. Blame the St. Louis Cards. I don't think either of us were in shape for a long and active day.

Four hours' sleep. A mild hangover. A sour taste in my mouth. I had a breakfast biscuit at Hardee's. That was some time before seven. I still had to type up the previous day's notes. I left all the good stuff out. My half-drunken profundities did not sound as good in the morning.

I went too to the local sevice station. I was there for another hour. I wanted to know the state of my innards before I climbed back on the road. There is a reason why athletes eat Wheaties. And not fried cornbread and beer. Consistent and predictable digestion. I've stated as much before.

Five brisk miles will sweat out most poisons. I was prepared to suffer some. But damned if I did not hit the road strong and keep it up most of the day. My legs felt great. My pack was light. I had a long smooth stride. Hushpuppies, they're called. The cornbread, I mean. They are Nature's Perfect Food.

It was an awful pretty stretch of road. The trees looked better than ever. And the air was clear and bright. You get that when it gets cold. The sun was out and the sky was blue. There were some good autumn clouds. Flat and grey on their undersides but billowing white towards the sky. Like they could rain on you if they wanted to, but were just in a benevolent mood.

I'm on Seventy-Two headed roughly southeast. I went up some fairly steep hills. But they are not wedged together with hollers in between. They offer broad and beautiful valleys. And once or twice I got that top-of-the-world view where I could see in all directions for miles.

I was in another piece of the Mark Twain National Forest. It was a lot more foresty here. With fewer houses. There is, however, logging going on. National Forests are not National Parks. They're not that sentimental. There were vast tracts up near the top that were peeled completely bare.

These are hardwoods remember, with the odd pine tree. I think most of them are oaks. Not big ones, and I could be wrong. I'm somewhat out of my depth. Being in love with a forest ranger does not make you an expert on trees.

It does make you a little lonesome sometimes, but I'll take the bad with the good. If falling in love were in any way easy everyone would want to do it.

I had a good shoulder to walk on, too. I powered over the hills. Fifteen miles took me to the edge of Patton. I did not walk into town. Nor, I think, is there a town to walk into. I had lunch at the Moo Cow Cafe. Which is attached to the auction barn, and which I highly recommend.

It was so cheap it was almost free. I had a very big lunch. And a big slab of peanut butter pie. Man, it was good. It was the last piece; a few regulars glared at me just a bit. But life is rife with disappointment. The sooner they learn that the better.

The mensroom was out in the barn. I'd never been in an auction barn before. It was neat, like a small theater, with a pen in place of a stage. In my old age I'll be a gentleman farmer. I think I'd like buying cows. I'll bid on the ones that look lonely and then I'll set them free.

I had been hiking in only a T-shirt. I hate to wear too much more. Because it just winds up getting all sweaty and stinking up my tent. And never ever gets dry again. And makes my armpits chafe. But a gallon or two of Coke and ice water had me shivering some.

Shivering is a terror out here. It starts a downward slide. Where you get cold then colder and then colder still, and then you don't warm back up. When I stop walking my temperature drops. It can get scary at times. And it is most undignified for a man of my age and size.

I had fifteen miles and a full belly. I walked another six or seven. But I was sure I'd get them in. I did not feel any stress. I do have some ugly blisters. One of my ankles is sore. My shoes are about to fall off my feet. Still it was a pretty good day.

I passed a house that was a barn, or a barn that was a house. Not an old barn like I would prefer. Still they've got plenty of space. A man and his son were waiting outside. They had seen me earlier in the day. And the boy, the little Christian, was sure I was hungry and insisted on making me lunch. Two sandwiches and two bags of chips, a Pepsi and some Kool-Aid. I didn't even learn his name. Bless his generous heart.

I may have looked hungry. That was the hangover. But let's not tell him that. There are enough cynics in the world. Bless his generous heart.

I sat on the sandwiches and mooshed 'em flat. Not deliberately. I ate one in the dark in my tent. It was surprisingly good. Because, and I might be wrong here, I think it was made with bologna and strawberry jam. I am saving the other one until morning. For some forensic research.

If it's the same thing, I'm going to eat it. Like I said, it wasn't half bad. I like to see young people experimenting. They're the future of the Sandwich Art.

I am camped on the edge of a field, wedged tightly into the trees. Which means I won't get the morning sunlight, which means I'll probably sleep in. If I can sleep. Damn, it's cold tonight. I'm wearing two pairs of socks. And two pairs of pants and two warm shirts and my usual ear-flap hat. I think I'll be fairly comfortable.

If it snows I quit.

I WISH I were indoors watching Game 7. I ain't got no Internet. But I really hope the Cardinals win. This will be the one Series I remember.

I SAW a cardinal a couple days ago. They're like red blue jays. I like the shape of their heads.

MY SHAVING foam exploded in my pack. Stop and imagine the mess. But I'll get it cleaned up sooner or later. Meanwhile I smell like a Frenchman.

MY TOOTHPASTE exploded as well. Minty!

I MET a kangaroo today. I didn't get a picture. So you probably don't believe me. But I did. A geat big one. Muscular. Friendly. And a little one. And some little white deer. And some goats. And a camel. Really.

THE STARS are spectacular. I'd rather it were warm.

A COP has pulled over a drunk driver a hundred yards off. I thought he was after me. It is disappointing. This would be a good night to spend in jail.

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Fifty-Three, Media Darling

It was indeed not raining when I woke up, but it was plenty wet. Inside and outside my tent. I packed an extra ten pounds of water. And set off again on my lonely road. It was not such a grand day for walking.

It was cold, to begin with, and threatening rain. The skies were layers of grey. And I was feeling a little scraped up from my long walk in the rain. A boy do chafe in spite of himself. I had blisters between my toes. Which made me nostalgic for the good old days when I was young and foolish.

Everything about me was sopping wet. My dripping old pack weighed a ton. And smelled cheesier than I like it to. My straps weren't sliding well. And my load was misbalanced, high and off to the left. It did unkind things to my back. Thirteen or fourteen miles, I figured, before I'd be safe from the rain.

I walked it. I was fairly heroic. I limped on on blistered toes. And cursed and grumbled. I dared not look at the sky. It was rotten, I tell you. I was in nine kinds of pain. It was easier than you might think. It is not like I had any options out there. It was too cold to stop and rest. So I walked. It was uncomfortable but I had no decisions to make.

I met Pastor Lee on the road. He runs a garage in town. He promised me coffee when I got there. It was a warming thought. The garage is Mowear Motorsports of Fredericktown, Missouri. They had some cool old muscle cars and one elegant Corvair. And a body man that looked like Jed Clampett. That's what I like to see. Missouri. Hell, yeah. It don't disappoint. I spent two hours there.

Not just standing around in the way. I had to get interviewed. And photographed for the local paper, known as the Democrat News. It has been around since 1870. Republicans read it now. At any rate they are making me famous, at least in this little town. Thanks to Robert Vanderbrugen, gentleman of the press.

I say this little town because I am still here. I had laundry to do. It was five by the time I got done and I still needed to eat. Lee said I could camp behind his shop. I figured I'd come far enough. My feet were a mess and it was getting dark. I retired to dinner.

Where I met Dustin, a tugboat man on the Mississipi, River. And Brian, a dissatisfied soul and sawmill employee. The invited me to watch the World Series with them. The Cardinals are involved. And drink and smoke and create that mood that really makes baseball fun.

It was a hell of a game, if you're into that sort of thing. Seriously. Game Six. Look it up. This is the first World Series there's ever been where I knew which team to cheer for.

Long story short, I crashed on Brian's couch. His cat slept on my chest. I woke up early and a bit bleary-eyed. Which is how you find me now. So I won't trouble you with any insights. Sometimes life is just about drinking and smoking and watching baseball.
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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Fifty-Two, Doing Unto

I didn't sleep as well as I had hoped to. I was haunted by awful dreams. About fruitcake and the YMCA, and NBA great Karl Malone. The same sort of things you dream about. I must say it scared me some.

I was all bundled up in my teddy bear pants. I was if anything a bit too warm. The overnight low was close to sixty. I slept outside of my bag. And woke up early and packed up quick. I did not climb down to the road. I sat on my pack to stare at the trees. That's when it started to rain.

Not a real downpour, just a drop here and there. I figured I'd walk between them. And so I did, to Leadwood, Missouri, a mile or two up the road. To the Owl Creek Grill, a cafe/saloon. I had a hearty breakfast. I wasn't so hungry but if it were going to rain I thought it might do me some good.

I sat there for hours, recharging and checking my little computer. It was sure it was not going to rain today. That's never a very good sign.

It was raining harder when I left, now on Old Highway 8. Which runs parallel to its new incarnation but includes a lot more hills. But I didn't much mind. It is pretty here despite my whining complaints. And the few dogs I met were smallish and kind. I still had some hope for the day. There was a sliver of blue sky up ahead. Behind me it was closing in grey.

A minimal effort brought me to Park Hills. They got the Hills part right. Up, up, up and into town. I counted cigarette butts. There were maybe twenty of them for every step I took, uphill and with a heavy pack. On sore legs and with blisters forming. I was not taking very long strides. I don't know if it's because they smoke more here, or if they're just more likely to throw their cigarettes out the window. It was in either case an impressive display. It went on like that for miles. Thinning a bit at the center of town but thickening right up again.

Park Hills has a few thousand people. It looks like a pretty old town. It was, I believe, once known as Flat River, which I think is the better name. Tougher somehow. Moreso of the frontier. "Park Hills" is just sort of bland. It sounds like another subdivision on the edge of some flavorless suburb.

I didn't get to know the place. I was there maybe an hour. Sipping soda pop under the shelter that serves as their farmers' market. They had there some electricity. I needed to check my maps. Looking back it was not too complicated, but it caused me some stress at the time. There are here several towns running together. My road was a little confused. And I'm still not wholly sure of my route. Nor will I ever be.

Park Hills faded into Leadington. I put on my red raincoat. Against the cold more than anything. It soon after started to pour. I stopped to put a cover on my backpack. The cover of course is yellow. In the rain I look like Ronald McDonald's less successful brother. The one living on the streets.

I galoshed my way to a KFC on the very edge of town. I was fairly hungry by now and eager to get out of the rain. I signed on for their lunch buffet. I don't like buffets as a rule. They put me in the mind of old folks' homes and maximum security prisons. But I was certain I could massacre the thing, and thereby teach them a lesson. You're a fool to advertise all-you-can-eat when James Harry Pierce is in town.

I failed. I ate quite a bit, but I was by no means the champion. There were women and old men eating more than me. We are a hungry people. I only had one piece of chicken. I don't like bones in my meat. I made a good dent in their marshed potaters, but they're not a big-ticket item.

I had too nine servings of bananner pudding, which is Nature's perfect food. In the future when I'm really rich I'm not going to eat anything but bananner pudding. But I'm not sure I'll be eating it out of stainless steel tubs.

I stayed long after I stopped eating. I had hoped that the rain would cease. But it didn't, of course; it only rained harder. I climbed back on the road. On the way out the door I met a man who had seen me on the other side of Potosi. And was glad for his encouragement. It means a lot on days like today.

I walked on to Farmington on a back road. I was attacked by Dobermans. Who, as has happened before, got into an argument over which one got to bite me first and wound up turning on each other. Boys, boys, when will you learn? There is plenty of me to chew on.

Farmington is a big city, or so I guess. It was dark when I got there. Mid-afternoon but dark, dark. It was just pissing down. And my road expanded to five or six lanes. Traffic got very heavy. It was kicking up a godawful spray. A lesser man would have pitied himself.

I retired to an Arby's to dry a bit. I sipped a soda to be polite. Every fast-food chain was represented. I chose Arby's on purpose. I wanted to sit there undisturbed. I've never seen customers there. And yet they go on and on in business. They are probably laundering money.

A look at my map brought me bad news, not horrible but it made me sad. I had missed my turn south to Knob Lick, Missouri. I'd been hoping to buy T-shirts there. Or pennants or shot glasses or snow globes or hats. Anything with "Knob Lick" on it. It appeals to the dirty limmerick writer in me. I think they'd have made lovely gifts.

It's probably better that I missed it. I'd be sniggering like Buffcoat and Beaver.

The weather south of town was worse. My shoulder disappeared. I was getting just a little discouraged and was ready to put up my tent. But there was no place for it, just a lot of small houses and here and there a ranchette. So I walked and suffered and shivered a bit and muttered under my breath. Dodging cars and turning down rides and wondering what brought me to this.

I was all but ready to start knocking on doors. At length I came to a farm. With people out front, good Christians all. I could tell by their bumper sticker.

They refused me.

One can't help but wonder, What Would Jesus Do? Would Jesus begrudge me a spot for my tent? Jesus would make me cocoa. And offer kind words and sound advice. He might admonish me some. But He'd do it with love and not before He had seen to preserving my health.

Or so I imagine.

You know, I've seen something of the world. I've been around it twice. Which is more than Magellan could brag about. I've noted a few things. You know who the most consistently and unflinchingly hospitable people are? Muslims. If anyone's keeping score.

Magellan was a Christian too. He was killed in the Philippines. He had hoped to convert a local chief with the aid of crossbows and muskets. The local chief wasn't having it. He was not a religious man.

I am camped another mile up the road, beside an electrified fence. Across a gully and up a bank. I don't know if it's a good spot. And won't until daylight. We'll see, we'll see. I do know I've got to be careful. One misplaced tent pole and I am going to fry.

It is still raining, hard, hard. It is wet inside my tent. But wetter outside. That's some consolation. I hope it will be dryer come the dawn. I cannot stay here all day. I'm low on water. I need to beg more. I hope there are Muslims nearby.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Fifty-One, Potosi!

I went and misjudged the time again. I stopped an hour early. It's getting cold; I could have used those extra miles. My mistake was in listening to my feet. "We've come far enough," they said. "You don't want to get trapped out here in the dark. You'd better put up your tent."

And I believed them, though I couldn't say why. They've been treacherous all along. Rarely do they miss a chance to sabotage my fun. In all fairness I did come twenty-one miles. Possibly twenty-two. But I could have added three or four more. My feet are stinky fiends.

My weary old muscles have resigned themselves to walking in these Walmart shoes. I still get awfully tired but I am not now nearly as sore. Which means I can cover a little more distance. Which means my feet suffer more. On a bright note, my shoes are falling apart. They need to last four more days. To Cape Girardeau or Cairo, Illinois, whichever one is bigger.

I woke up early, before the sun. Gosh, I was comfortable. I taken time to find a smooth patch of ground. It had some give to it too. I could have happily stayed in bed all day. I did not have a whole lot of strength. You may not know what a pain in the ass it is to pack up my gear every day.

It's a pain in the ass. Stand informed.

But I managed, even at my leisure. I was back on the road before eight. And was determined today to enjoy myself. It is going to be cold tomorrow. Today it was in the low eighties, a little breezy but still. The sky was blue with wisps of clouds and I'm learning to love these orange trees. All along the side of the road were little purple flowers. And I was not in such horrible pain. I didn't even take my pills.

About a mile up the road I found a store. Just where I expected to find it. And everyone there was nice to me. I really like how they talk. And how much they talk. It's a Scots-Irish thing. We're a chatty race. I don't try to ape their pronunciation. Our vocabularies differ some. But I find myself falling into the cadences and am very comfortable there.

I had a modest heat-lamp breakfast and got to talking with some fellows there. About life and love and wild animals and dumb things we've done when we were drunk. I really didn't want to leave the place. I was having such a nice time. It is every man's right to drink coffee and bullshit with other men.

It was a sort of grocery with pumps out front. I should mention it by name. Because they gave me some lovely parting gifts. GAS, I think it was called. At least that's what the sign said. In beautiful Shirley, Missouri.

Shirley doesn't appear on every map. I think GAS is the whole town. But it has it's place in history. That is where Belle Starr was from. Who was of course known as the Bandit Queen, that beautiful lady outlaw. But was in fact just about the ugliest woman to ever blot the West.

Don't think I am being unkind to ugly people. I was ugly myself once. But I worked my way up to average. Ugly comes from within. I'll be damned if I know where Beauty comes from. Angel kisses, one supposes.

The wind had picked up when I got back on the road, to twenty or twenty-five miles per. It roared through the trees on either side of the road and sounded like something worse. You could see the dry leaves swirling around hundreds of feet in the air. Every now and then I'd get hit with a monster gust which would all but knock me down.

But like I said, I was determined to enjoy the day. Pleasant company at breakfast helped. And I had a good road with a fair shoulder. I could wave at truckers again. For a few days there I didn't dare. I needed to maintain my balance. And I didn't mind if the truck drivers kept both their hands on the wheel.

Ten miles took me into Potosi, Missouri. It is a very old town. By American standards, my international friends. It was founded in the 1780s. By Moses Austin, who went on to father Stephen Austin, who went on to father Texas. He got a land grant from the Spaniards and went to work digging for lead.

Jim Bridger and Jedediah Smith and all them other mountain men they was always bragging on in Montana set out from Potosi in the very early 1800s. It was at the time about as far west as any right-thinking Christian dared go. There are a lot of old buildings which I would have been glad to look at if I weren't racing winter south.

I dined in Potosi at a place called Peppers. I mention it because I promised I would. And because my waitress was pretty and kind. And because the french fries were good. They were the big flat square-edged kind, crispy on the outside. That, my friends, is how you fry a potato. Crinkle-cut fries be damned.

The secret to a successful Walk Across America is to put in ten miles before noon so you can mess around the rest of the day and still make your quota. I almost never manage it. I'm slow to warm up. I'm cautious in my friendships. I am still waiting to bloom. But I did get a good strong start today. I ain't always useless.

From Potosi I headed out east. Highway 8 has improved some. With good wide shoulders the width of a car. Except on one evil bridge. Over the imaginatively named Big River. I had to run across it. With a backpack. That's probably why my poor weary toes went on strike.

I failed to make it to Leadwood, Missouri. I did not want to get that far. I don't know how big a town it is, but towns make camping difficult. I am now comfortably placed, high on a cliff, overlooking the highway. It is meant to be fairly warm tonight. I'd better enjoy it while it lasts.

INDEED, I am told, there are bears in Missouri. And really grumpy wildcats. And I thought I had my hands full with possums and copperheads.

CHEERS to Patti and Larry, proprietors of GAS. They bought me lunch, and breakfast, and gave me an orange safety vest. No joke. It is deer season. Some of these boys is trigger happy. Next time you're in Shirley, Missouri, buy your gas at GAS. Their heat-lamp breakfast sandwiches ain't bad either. Have two. They're kinda small.

"YOU MUST HAVE had all kinds of exciting adventures," almost everyone says to me. Not really. I wish I had. It's more of a cumulative thing.

"ARE YOU a patriot?" one man demanded to know. I assured him I was. I am not, after all, a seditionist. I love America.
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Day One-Hundred-Fifty, Huzzah

I don't know how far I walked today. Better than twenty miles. I am camped in a holler near some power lines. The Internet can't find me here. I miss it, I do. I like getting mail, the odd letter here and there. And I like to have at least a glance at my map, and I had some reading to do.

About the Battle of Huzzah, or Huzzah Creek. It took place somewhere near here. On the very Missouri outskirts of the American Civil War. I'm lost without Wikipedia. I am no historian. But as I understand it the state of Missouri had its own civil war going on. Before and during the greater conflict, bushwackers were at large.

I think the first ten minutes of The Outlaw Josey Wales sums it up fairly well. I've had the music of that opening montage bouncing around my head all day. Local militias, not the regular armies, were abroad in the land. And they were most ungentlemanly, if I may understate things.

Missouri, and I am relying on my unconnected memory here, was admitted to the Union as a free state. Which really pissed the Southerners off. For years they had been trying to maintain their balance by moving to Missouri Territory, in their thousands, every time the issue of slavery came up for a vote. After the election they'd go home. For a while there were two legislatures, each one challenging the legitimacy of the other. The details are lost to me. It went to the Supreme Court, I know. Anyway, no one was happy and pretty soon there was a war.

The good guys won.

That's a bold statement and one that's bound to upset some amateur historians. With more facts and figures at their disposal than I would ever care to know. But the way I see it, one side was fighting to preserve the institution of slavery and the other side was fighting to end it. All other issues are secondary, if not wholly manufactured. It disgusts me that people are still arguing about this. Slavery is a bad thing.

The good guys won.

I woke early and unmolested and was back on the road by eight. As I half-jokingly predicted, that mean ol' possum did indeed try to come into my tent. Ugly critter. I was too scared to find my boot so I just sort of shook the whole tent and he went away. After that I slept fine.

It is hard to generate too much enthusiasm about walking in these awful boots, but it was a beautiful day. Warm and sunny and the trees around here are getting more beautiful. We're still missing a yellow, and a convincing red, but there are all shades of orange. And a few stubborn greens, here and there, some of which turned out to be pine trees.

I smelled them before I saw them, and even then I didn't pay them much mind. I must have been ten minutes walking through the forest before I thought to look around. I didn't know they had pine trees in Missouri. It's an unusual state. The only one that will grow both apples and peaches. Or so I have been told.

You'd think California could do it too. California can do anything.

I had a good thirty inches of shoulder to walk on today. The road went up and down. But it would open up at the top of some hills and I had some spectacular views. Of hardwood forests, miles of them, with broad green valleys between. And several creeks and a river or two, all of which looked very clean.

I am still I think in the national forest, but there are houses here and there. And a number of what might be best termed shacks. Hovels, if you will. With piles of junk on their porches, and still more filling their yards. And pretty nice trucks parked out front. I guess they're not house proud.

Prejudices being what they are, I kept smelling ether and burning plastic. Which is what I've always just assumed a meth operation smells like. But I think it was just burning leaves, with some garbage thrown in for luck.

The nicer houses have lawn jockeys. That's all I've got to say about that. But almost every house has a few concrete deer standing out in the yard. Which doesn't seem very bright to me. You're asking people to shoot at your house. It would be like living in LA and decorating your yard with statues of Crips and Bloods.

I met a few cows and that was nice. They're always so kind to me. If I cannot get any mail I'll find my encouragement where I can. Remind me to go back to vegetarianism, as soon as it is feasible. Cows really are lovely creatures and I think we should make them our friends.

So I guess it was a pretty good day. I lived on bread and cheese. And I've got cuts on my toes and my muscles are sore, but I made some forward progress. It was a glorious autumn day in a beautiful part of the country. And I didn't get myself dogbit or squished. Tomorrow I'll hit Potosi.

And celebrate with a hamburger. May God forgive me.

THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES is one of my very favoritest movies of all time. It was based on a book called, I think, Gone to Texas, which was written by a Nazi. Not many people know that.

I SEE flyers advertising bluegrass events, but never where and when I am. I was hoping there'd be more banjos down here, but I ain't found any yet.

CHEERS to Mr. Ray Free, proud American and tomato farmer, cultivator of sideburns,who gave me water when I was thirsty. He had no doubt I would succeed in my journey because I am "young" and "full of piss and vinegar." Am not.

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Forty-Nine, Che

I woke after seven and packed on a hurry. I did not much like where I was. They probably don't shoot every trespasser here, but I'd hate to be that one in three.

I grumbled my way back up the road. I really wanted a shower. You sweat like a chimp when you're bundled up. You smell decidedly worse. But I've done used up this month's motel funds. And there are no truck stops on these roads. So imagine my surprise and delight to find one in Cuba, Missouri.

My backroad crossed I-44 there. It was a gimungous place. With dozens and dozens of diesel pumps, a restaurant and a half-dozen showers. And a barber shop and a laundromat and a smoking lounge/Bible chapel. I cannot tell you how good it feels to get clean once in a while.

I had too an enormous breakfast and loitered for long hours. In a plush chair, watching football on the widescreen TV. Two teams were playing. They did this and that. It was I'm sure very exciting. I am not really much of a fan. I'd look up from time to time. Mostly I read Wikipedia. If Americans spent more time reading Wikipedia and less time watching football, we'd all be better off.

And better at Jeopardy. Except the football questions. Of which there are few.

I was there a lot longer than I needed to be. I was in love with that chair. A chair and a shower, it was almost as good as staying in a motel. Walking on these dangerous roads is really wearing me out. I've got to keep my eyes open. I can't get my rhythm down. Just when I get some forward momentum I've got to jump into the ditch.

It is my own fault, I know. I could have planned my route better. Or you could have. I couldn't. Planning's not what I do best.

[A critter was wandering by my tent. I never know what they are. Skunks, I figure. This one's a possum. I got my spotlight on him. Didn't seem to bother him in the least. I wonder if possums is mean. If he tries to chew his way into my tent I am going to whomp him with my boot.]

And I probably should have doubled back into, what was it, Columbia for proper boots. Walking flat footed is tiring. I've still got ten days in these things. They are wearing quickly but evenly. Clomp, clomp, clomp.

At one or two I squeezed out the door and down the road to a Walmart. I've got a forty-mile stretch coming up and I wanted to stock up on food. And water. And Gatorade. It added twenty pounds to my pack. And just like it was in Montana, I'm feeling it in my toes.

I bought bread and cheese. And donuts. Guess how long they lasted. Not very. And I think they gave me the poops.

Cuba didn't seem like such an awful town. I kept forgetting what it was called. I'd see signs cheering on Cuba's teams and raising money for Cuba's orphans. That's big-hearted, I'd think. But though they may think globally, their actions are strictly local.

It was out of town on the same narrow road. I longed to be back in my chair. But three miles in the road opened up. It turned pink and there was a shoulder. The right of way was wide as well. I could see the glorious sky. If I had not been so far hammered down I am sure it would have cheered me up.

But it didn't. Not overmuch. My legs were just too sore. And I could see ahead the very steep hills between me and Steelville, Missouri. My pack weighed a ton but I kept walking. But only because I'm a hero.

Steelville is home to 1500 people and sort of buried in the trees. It bills itself as the Float Capital of Missouri, which no doubt refers to their booming, if seasonal, river rafting industry, but which rather put me in the mind of the oldest established permanent floating crap game in New Yawk.

Still paranoid about my upcoming foodless days, I added to my stock at a Subway. Yes, a Subway. Sandwiches are cheap this month. I hate to be a demanding customer but I talked the young woman through every step of the process. She was maybe sixteen, petite, and either a serious beer drinker or twenty months pregnant. She had a herpes sore on her lip.

I then loitered outside a convenience store, trying to get information on my road ahead. No one was very helpful but I was surprised at how friendly they all were. It was only later I realised they were drunk.

I am now in the Mark Twain National Forest which is sort of splattered in sections across the map of southern Missouri. I thought it would be a grand place to camp. But it is as thoroughly populated as any other part of the state and when it got dark I found myself camping in a wisp of trees between no less than three houses. If I can get out of here without being yelled at or shot, it will be a miracle.

Tomorrow I'll do what I can to wake early and resume my hungry road. It has narrowed again but there is a small shoulder, maybe eighteen inches wide. And who knows, it may be a federal crime to murder me in a National Forest. I wonder who I can ask. If only I had an intimate relationship with some kind of forest ranger.

I SANG in the shower. Beautifully. My voice sounded great off the tiles. A sort of booming baritone that might bring tears to your eyes. I sang Christmas songs. I only know Christmas songs.

WHERE THE ROADS are narrow and blind, people drive like maniacs. Where they are wide and safe, they creep along under the speed limit. This is not a trick of perception. It is a fact.
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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Forty-Eight, Parful Sore

I slept soundly. Let us admit there are benefits to toxic waste. The fumes that permeated my tent knocked this camper out cold. And yet I did wake up, and wake up early, with only the mildest hangover. And I had had any number of spectacular dreams, none of which I recall now.

It took some courage to climb back on the road. There is no shoulder at all. No shoulder. None. And the roads are narrow and they drive here like maniacs. And I am just not Feeling the Love, as it were. Nobody seems glad to see me. Two of them even swerved at me in an effort to squish me dead.

Now I'm pretty sure they meant to be funny. They were just trying to give me a scare. It may be true but don't let it be said that I can't take a joke. I've long been a student of comedy. I think humour's the highest art. Really. Try it again. We'll laugh together. I'll go slapstick on your ass.

I struggle too with my Walmart boots. They make walking a chore. I salute the Chinese orphans who made them, but they just aren't up to job. They do not flex so they shorten my stride. And bring all the wrong muscles into play. I wind up working twice as hard to go just two-thirds as far.

And they slap the ground, clomp, clomp. I've lost my catlike grace. When my right foot goes down my teeth clack together. I've got to keep my jaw tight. While watching out for cars and climbing some of the steepest hills on this trip.

Rough day.

I ain't complaining. Not exactly. I'm just letting you know how things stand. Today was even a victory of sorts. I walked almost twenty miles. Which may not sound like much to you, but in these shoes, and over this terrain, I have some right to be pleased. And muscle ache is not such a bad thing. That's what it feels like to get strong. Another two-hundred miles in these shoes and I'll be a superman.

Of course I caught a glimpse of myself in a mirror today. I'm looking awfully scrawny. Not sickly exactly but lanky somehow. Like Shaggy on Scooby-Doo. I suppose I'm fitter than I've ever been. This has happened once before. That was when I lived in India and got the dysentery.

Owensville, Missouri was only five miles off, but it was a struggle to get there. My legs were shaking under the strain and I do have some cuts on my feet. I had to stop twice, once in a park where I put some charge on my computer. Most of the people there glared at me like I was some kind of a creep.

I found a mailman outside a McDonald's. I asked him if there were anywhere to eat. He looked like Billy Bob Thornton. He asked if I were "parful hungry." Parful hungry enough, I figured. He told me just where to go.

"Number two-hundred-and-six First Avenue." He meant a local cafe. But I really like that he said it like that. It was so very postal. Like when truck drivers help me plan my walk by telling me where to downshift. It shows a real expertise, and gives me a glimpse of their world.

I would only eat once today. I decided to do it right. It'd been too long since I'd had biscuits and gravy and sausage and hash browns and eggs. And toast. It came on two plates. It was all a little bland. I should have saved my sausage to bribe the mean dogs on the road.

I stayed there a couple of hours. I did not make any friends. People went on eyeing me suspiciously. They don't cotton to strangers in these parts. At any rate, I have failed to charm them. I'll be glad when I'm gone.

I am five or six miles north of Cuba, Missouri, camped in a dodgy spot. I had to come over a barbed wire fence. It was getting dark. I followed an old road between the woods a bank, up to a sort of plateau. Which turned out to be a pond. I am beside it now.

On private land. I hear dogs barking. I hope they don't find me here. A lot of the dogs in Missouri are mean and I ate all my sausage myself.

I am too low on water. I hate to even type as much. Just the thought of it swells my tongue and makes my throat clench up. But town is less than two hours off. I'll try to wake up early. And make my way to a better road and live to tell the tale.

I SAW AN armadiller, dead but not so far squished as to be unrecognisable. Weird-looking critters, armadillers.

IT WAS in fact warm today, high seventies, I reckon. Cold now, though.
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Friday, October 21, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Forty-Seven, Roadkill

Damn it was cold last night. That's all I've got to say about that. Next time it freezes, you sleep outside. Call me and we'll compare notes. Between us I'm sure we can weave the experience into some brand of poetry. But all on my own I'm bound to get nasty. I might just say something unkind. Or indulge a most unmanly self-pity that would not become me at all. I am grateful for this experience. Even when it sucks.

I did not wake up until eight-thirty. We might blame the cold for that. Because when it came time for my morning pee I thought I might just hold it in. And go back to sleep and my recurring dream about a fruitless search for a mensroom. It was uncomfortable but warm, or warmer than I would be outside.

I was too again in amongst the trees. The sun takes a while to get there. And I don't get my morning cue that it is time to wake up. I suppose I could invest in a watch. They go for a pittance these days. But I tend to find alarms alarming, when I can hear them at all. So I enjoyed ten and a half hours sleep, waking now and then to complain.

It was another low-milage day. That makes, what, five in a row? It is no way to run a railroad, I know. I'm tempted to blame Missouri. My path is not set out before me. The roads squiggle this way and that. And I never know when a town is a town or just a dot on the map. And no one I meet seems to know either. I am groping along in the dark. Which is bound to slow almost anyone if they are possesed of their wits.

And my new shoes are not helping much. They are not hikers but work boots. Which means they are heavy and do not much flex. They are calling on new sets of muscles. I have not, thank goodness, suffered injury, but I have been a little sore. I'm bound to get strong again in a few days. Until then I just gut it out.

But meanwhile there are hills to climb, and oh, what hills they are. I don't know the geologic history here but it must be something dreadful. There are high steep hills, each one an island. I have to climb every one. I never get to follow a ridge and smile down at the world.

There are views, though, of acres of forest. In there there must be some farms. But from up above all you can see are trees. Not that I've studied it much. My eyes have necessarily been on the road. It is darn scary out here. I've thought I might carry a spatula to remind me to keep focused. And to aid in my recovery if I let that focus lapse.

I expected a gas station three miles in. Someone said it was there. I thought I might have a few cups of cocoa, a reward for surviving the night. But there was nothing for more than ten miles. I stopped two or three times. My legs were sore and the hills were steep and I did not know where I was going.

You might say it is pretty country. It is wild and there are all kinds of trees. And the odd little farm or funny old house. It is even a pretty good road. For driving. If you had a Porsche or something; there are a lot of neat little twists. But these chipmunk-murdering maniacs don't drive foreign cars. They drive monster trucks. Which just might shine in the old mud-bog but which have no place on the road.

I like hotrods, don't get me wrong. I like it when people fix up their cars. But the goal should be to make them better, not immeasurably worse. A pick-up truck is just barely road-worthy out of the factory. It is built to haul heavy loads. Not to go fast or look pretty or handle especially well. Jack it up eighteen inches or more and it becomes useless for anything but offroad driving. Bunch of freakin' idiots.

I stopped once where an overgrown road disappeared into the trees. I was chewing up some cold bread and cheese when I met a silly cat. He was walking up the middle of the highway. He looked so complacent and proud. His tail was high, his ears were up. "Get out of the road," I said. I remembered a little chipmunk in Idaho, crushed by a monster truck.

"Meow," said the cat.
"Meow," I said.
"Meow," said the cat again.

And so he came up to visit with me, meowing the whole time. He was a talkative cat. He was missing an eye. He does not like extra sharp cheddar. But he seemed glad for the company. I was sorry when we said goodbye.

Probably dead now. I honor his memory.

Eventually, and at great personal risk, I made it to Drake, Missouri. Which is represented by a gas station and very little else. I had two war surplus sandwiches, heated in a microwave. And installed myself there for two hours to recharge and study my map.

I left Highway 50 after Drake and headed south on Highway 19. I was tired of being almost squished and bluffing my way past mean dogs. One of them nipped at me today. I pretended I didn't notice. He put a little rip in my pants but I did not want to escalate things. I think I could have taken him in a fair fight, but that's not why I'm out on the road. I'm all about Sweetness and Light. I refused to stoop to his level.

If I'd had a stick I would have whomped him on the noggin.

Highway 19 has some advantages. I'm at least headed south again. And traffic is a little lighter. Drivers, more considerate. But there is no shoulder whatsoever. When someone comes I have jump in a ditch. And there have been some nasty hills. And I'm guessing there will be more dogs.

"You ain't from around here," a fellow told me yesterday. Thank you, no sir, I'm not. The dogs seem to have the same suspicions, like I've come to bust up their still. Live and let live, that's my motto. Now how to make them all understand.

It was spur of the moment, heading south. I am following no kind of plan. We'll see, I guess, how it works out. I am camped maybe five miles from a pretty big town, behind a sort of gravel pit. Or heavy equipment storage yard. Or a dump for toxic waste. There is here a very strong solvent smell. I'm feeling a bit doped up.

It was getting dark when I moved in. I'd found a better place. But when I got there it was full of old tombstones. And corpses, one assumes. I am not afraid of zombies. I'm immune to supernatural events. But I can get creeped out like any man. I turned around and kept walking.

This place seemed too good to pass up, but there was a fellow here. I figured he was looking for things to steal. I went and introduced myself. Ordinarily I would leave him to his trade, but it was getting dark. I figured I should have priority since mine was the purer cause.

Turns out he was Mr. Ellis. Turns out he owns the place. I am now camping with permission. Which is sometimes nice. It eases my stress. It was awfully decent of him. And more than relieves me of any compulsion to contact the EPA.

I HEAR the coyotes howling again. I had a peculiar thought. Maybe they are the same band each night. Maybe they're following me.

I SAW an owl. He was handsome. But I saw no wisdom in his eyes. He wore a fairly vapid expression. That was disappointing.

THEY'VE GOT bugs here that look like sticks. Not kind of like sticks. Just like sticks. Stick bugs, I call them.

IT IS ten degrees warmer than it was last night. And bitter, bitter cold.
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Forty-Six, Nanook

The autumn leaves here are perhaps less beautiful than I have led you to believe. Of course I never meant to deceive you. I have limited powers of description. I say autumn leaves and leave it at that. I let you form your own picture. Likely of the leaves in, say, Vermont, with their vivid reds and yellows.

There are reds here, and yellows, as well. Here and there you might see an orange. But the predominant colour, such as it is, is something you might call rust. In all of its shades, don't get me wrong, but none of them particularly vivid. They all have a vaguely muddy tinge. Any postcard would be touched up.

Which is not to say they're not nice to see. There is some variety. And it may be yet early. Many of the trees remain a stubborn green. But some are altogether bare. I couldn't say which is which. You might be better served in this case by someone who knew something of Nature.

For me a tree is a tree is a tree. Same with birds and anything furry. Nor am I able to well describe the features of the land. Or the clouds or the sky or anything too much to do with Nature. But I wonder if those who can write of such things are really getting it right. Or if they're just better at taking credit for the pictures we form on our own.

This morning I woke in amongst the trees. The sky was once again blue. Bluer, perhaps. Looking up through the trees everything was in sharp focus. Every beetle, every twig, the rusty leaves, the very sky itself. The air was today amazingly clear. That is what cold looks like.

Not the damp cold of the past few days. That's Nature's way of cheating. I can make you cold on a summer day by pouring water on your head. This was a real cold, an honest cold, a cold without pretense. Dangerous, perhaps, but beautiful. I've known some women like that.

Fewer than you'd think, if I may digress. Most beautiful women are good. They grow up free of the vanity that comes from being ugly. They accept their Beauty as a matter of course. They'll admit to it if you ask. It is ugliness in its forms that causes all your pain.

As I was saying, it was a beautiful day. Everything was so well defined. I passed a Chevy dealer on way into town. Even it was pretty. The road, the dirt, the cigarette butts. It was all beautiful.

I breakfasted at the Linn, Missouri McDonald's. It was the closest place to my tent. And as lovely as things were out of doors I wanted to warm my toes. It was cheap and not so awfully bad. Their biscuits were a little doughy. And I was soon after hungry again. It did not stick to my ribs.

One thing rather interested me. It was teeming with old people. Whom I usually enjoy talking to, but these old folks were busy. They were playing bingo. Dozens of them. At McDonald's. At eight a.m. A few of them looked like they wanted to talk, but they stayed true to their game.

I had sausage and eggs and pancakes and a biscuit. It came on a styrofoam tray. It reminded me so much of airplane food I kept my elbows tucked in. Like a T-rex eating corn on the cob. Like a grown man in economy class.

They have an odd take on hash browns. They came as a sort of wafer. It tasted fine. It was duly crispy. It just looked a little odd. Like the food they give our brave astronauts, who wash it all down with Tang.

Poor, miserable, space-exploring bastards.

I found a supermarket next door and re-upped my bread and cheese. That place was full of old people as well; banned from bingo, I guess. For what indiscretion, I dared not ask. They complained quite a bit of the cold. But I didn't. I know if I'm cold, it's my very own fault.

From there I hiked up to Linn proper. I had been I guess in the suburbs. Linn was up on the top of the hill. I don't know how many people live there. It is home to a large technical college, training airplane and diesel mechanics. And others, one is bound to suppose. I am too cold to look it up.

Their second industry in funeral homes. They bookended my laundromat. Which itself is scheduled to be torn down in order to make room for a third. I suppose it makes bargain shopping easy, having them all together like that. But I don't like to think too much about death. Death, thank you, makes me sad.

And afraid. Not least as I walk east on fabulous Highway 50. It's a pretty road, winding over steep hills, separated by deep hollows. Narrow, though, with blind corners and no shoulder to speak of. And traffic moving at eighty per. I did not spend much time looking at scenery. It was all I could do to look after myself. It was a scary day.

I usually get the sense that most drivers, whatever their skill or ineptitude, would just as soon not squish me dead. Not so here. Here they all think I'm an idiot for walking on their road. If I were to die it would confirm their belief and make them feel better about themselves.

It is not though for me to build their self-esteem. Let them go on in self-loathing. The speed limit here is sixty, I believe. That must be a population control thing. Anywhere else it would be forty, I swear. Folks would go fifty and live. Here they drive at seventy-five. I bet there are all kinds of wrecks.

You know whom I am becoming ever more disgusted with? People with jacked-up trucks. They'd be fine for stadium races or exhibitions at county fairs. But hey're too tall to be of much use on the farm and they bounce all over the road. And they instill in their drivers a sort of swagger that I don't think is wholly deserved. Bunch o' puny little compensatin' chipmunk-murderin' morons.

Not too many miles up the road I stopped at a saloon for a burger. The Shack, it was called. "It looks like a shack." But on the inside it's real nice. And it was warm in there and the food was good and the people were kind to me. There seem to be fewer saloons these days. It reminded me of warmer times.

I lingered there as I had at McDonald's. As I did at the laudromat. I don't think I made fifteen miles today. I was dreading what was up the road. Nightfall. That's what was scaring me. The putting up of my tent. For tonight is the first night of all my trip that's going to drop below freezing. And me outdoors. What an idiot. Nobody knows how I suffer.

But I found a good spot for my tent. I'm bundled up and zippered in. There's every chance I'll be perfectly fine. So far, I say, so good.

IT HAS SINCE been confirmed that there are indeed armadillers in Missouri. They started showing up five years ago, as part of a great migration. But as far as I know, no one has ever seen a live one. One theory has it that Texans scrape them off their own highways, then throw them out their windows, like frisbees, on their way through this state.

THE COYOTES are howling, like most nights, only a bit nearer by. And the cows are mooing bitterly about how cold they are. And there are plenty of critters in the dry leaves, all around my tent. Skunks, as likely as not. I saw a pretty one today. He was white and black instead of black and white. It was a good look for a skunk.
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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Forty-Five, Fo Fum

Find me in a Subway--in a Walmart, no less--sheltering from the storm. Or at least the cold. I've been here a while. It may or may not be raining. But you know you've taken some wrong turns in life when such as this becomes your Oasis.

I woke up I guess at seven or so. I couldn't be sure of the time. My little computer was so low on juice I didn't dare turn it on. And there was no sun to go by. The sun has gone south, a lot faster than I can travel. Squinting in the gloom I studied my map and reached no very cheerful conclusions.

I did too have a look at my shoes. They were worse than I thought. They had suffered a catastrophic failure and were about to fall off my feet. I could tape them up and hope for the best. Or I could hike back into town. Or I could see what Walmart could do. I decided to give them a shot.

I got hiking boots for thirty-five bucks. You'd think I would be better pleased. It is a fraction of what I have been paying. But them high-dollar shoes have not always been kind. I am hoping these will be worse. Because if I don't suffer, and suffer indeed, I'll know that I've been paying too much.

They don't have to take me further than Cape Girardeau, the next good-sized town on my road. I'll be damned if I know how I'm going to get there. I'm pretty sure it will be cold. But this is the price I pay, I know, for goofing around in Montana.

I wasn't really goofing around. I was doing my very best. It is just that my best was pitiful. I'll do a lot better next time. A few more twenty-five mile days early on, and I'd be sunning it on the gulf coast. I hear the hotels are cheap down there. Because of all the tar.

I bought too a few more pairs of socks. It was that or find a laundry. And one of those magical undershirts that are supposed to keep you dry in the cold. It didn't cost fifty bucks, it only cost ten, plus a two-dollar premium. For being of abnormal size. I'm a towering giant down here.

Fear me.

I got some underpants of the same material, if I may say "underpants" here. Underpants, underpants. Underpants, Ha! I'm tired of censoring myself. Bear with my off-color outbursts. This is a grown-up blog. But I will not describe the particular chafing which compelled me to buy new shorts.

So in the end I spent as much as I would to sleep in a motel. Which is a shame. It's awful cold. I'd like to sleep indoors. Though I did stay warm enough last night. I'll credit my teddy bear pants. Handmade by my dear friend Marne. Thank-you. You are a hero.

But it will be colder still tonight, and evil cold tomorrow. Well below freezing. Cryogenic. Cry, cry again. It will be a nice test of my resolve, and of my sleeping bag. It is made out of ground-up ducks. Let's hope they did not die in vain.

So it's ten-thirty now and all I've accomplished is to walk a mile and a half. The wrong way. But I bought new boots, Walmart boots, and breakfasted at the in-house Subway. I had some sort of breakfasty concoction, and between you and me, it wasn't bad. Now I'm drinking cup after cup of their coffee and dreading whatever's to come.

That's the morning report, at any rate. Peace.


It's four-thirty now. For the last lonesome hour I've been at a gas station. In Loose Creek, Missouri. My road has narrowed somewhat. There is here an Ozarky vibe. I feel foreign and city slick. Everyone looks like Randy Quaid. Whom I've always admired, but still, but still. I'm the only one who ain't kin.

I've been wearing my raincoat to break the wind. Underneath my fleece shirt is sopping. GORE-TEX®. GORE-TEX®, pshaw. It's a conspiracy. They are trying to give me the sniffles.

It has not topped forty-five today. I'm beginning to think it might not. Nor will it for a couple more days. Hot diggity damn but it's cold. Every time I smell wood smoke I think of fires I've known and shed a lonesome tear.

So here's the plan: I walk on to Linn and stop just short of town. Then if I am feverish tomorrow I can check into a motel. If not I'll do laundry and eat hash browns and climb back out on the road. Though I rather wish I could have a shower. Don't love me less, but I stink.

Good news, good news. My little computer has upped it's prediction for tomorrow. It has dipped as low as twenty-eight. Now it's at thirty-four. We'll see, we'll see. It's a lesson to young walkers. Don't dilly-dally in Montana.


Now it's back down to thirty again. Poop.


I hiked six or seven miles into Linn. It was daylight but it was dark. My road is narrow and traffic moves fast. I was ready to dive for the ditch. But the trees are pretty and I like these steep hills. They take my mind off the cold.

I could not find a good place to camp. "Oh, darn," I thought to myself. "Now I'll have to get a room and take three or four hot baths. And eat pizza and watch TV and sleep in a proper bed. With the baseboard heater going full blast and the cooler running on low."

But that misfortune did not befall me. I found a nice place for my tent. Not five-hundred yards from the edge of town, in amongst the trees. If it were less perfect I could have ignored it, but I've got my hobo pride. I put on dry clothes and climbed into my sack. Who knows but I might survive.

I did not make too much progress today, maybe seventeen forward miles. I was busy backtracking and buying shoes and trying in vain to get warm. My new shoes rather sliced up my feet but I am well used to that.

Tomorrow I'll get some washing done. Linn has a McDonald's. I can all but see it through the trees. That means it's a pretty big town. And so will have a laundromat. I'll blow two hours there. Which will make tomorrow another short day. I'm too cold to care.

I SAW ANOTHER one of those furry rugby ball beasties. I think they might be woodchucks. They are slow and clumsy and look kind of dumb. They are my woodland brothers.

FOR TWO OR THREE days I have seen a new beast, crushed on the side of the road. So well crushed I could not guess what they once were. My best guess was dinosaurs. But I think, and I know I'm awful far north, they might be armadillers. Or really big turtles with long tails. Or dinosaurs.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Forty-Four, Jeff City

It stormed all night, lightning and thunder. I was up until two or so. When I did fall asleep I slept until nine, just like the good old days. It has become my habit to wake with the sun. The sun did not rise today.

Oh, it was up there somewhere, I guess. You couldn't prove it by me. The sky stayed grey; it sprinkled some, but it never really rained. It was cold and gloomy and sad, but I maintained my good cheer. Anyone who knows me knows that I am all about Positive Thought.

I had a good spot, up on a cliff, overlooking the freeway. I could see them but they couldn't see me. I might have stayed there all day. But I did pack up and I did walk, twelve miles to Jefferson City.

Damn, it was hairy. These roads were not made with your good pedestrian in mind. There are on ramps and off ramps and interchanges for me to find my way through. It was all very mathematical, and demanded some strategy. I coped, you understand, but I found it all very taxing. My intellect is better suited to poetry and random, abstract thought.

There was a fine bridge across the Missouri. Two, as a matter of fact. Side by side with a bicycle path running along one side. Of course no one had thought to tell me about it. I crossed it on the shoulder. With cars and trucks muddying up my elbows and people staring at me.

"What's with that idiot?" they seemed to say. "Why don't he use the bike path?"

Next time I Walk Across America I will. Now I'm just glad to be alive. And unmolested by law enforcement, and not committed against my will. Fortune Favors the Bold, they say. You get bonus points if you're dumb.

So I've crossed the Wide Missouri once more, here as wide as it's ever been. And lined on both sides with autumn leaves with barge traffic in the middle. I quite like to see things moving on barges. It seems almost old-fashioned. It is nice to think that it is still a good way to get your goods to market.

Only upon seeing the capitol dome was I reminded that Jefferson City is the capital of Missouri. I guess I am meant to know these things. I am sure I did once. It is home to forty-odd thouand people, spread across high bluffs. It seems like an old city but it didn't exist when Lewis & Clark paddled by.

I was rather chilly by the time I got there. I had started to shiver some. I parked myself in a coffee shop and stayed there for three hours. Better it had been a laundromat, but laundromats don't serve quiche. I got barely the hint of a charge on my computer while I puzzled over my maps.

I do not know where I am going from here. The roads to the south are a mess. It is causing me a great deal of unease. I have never much cared for stress. Some people thrive on it, I know, but most of them are jerks.

It did not get any warmer while I was indoors. It took some courage to go on. I overheard people complain of the cold and thought how they don't understand. I am the cold. I live it. It seems to pour right out of my heart. Enjoy what little warmth there is or I'm going to make it snow.

Walking did not get easier as I worked my way out of the city. Traffic was heavy. There was no shoulder. I was walking on spongy grass. Which would have made a soft spot for my tent but was tiring to walk through. A sidewalk would have warmed my heart if not my brittle toes.

I stopped again at a McDonald's, not to eat but to recharge. I am still running on the faintest spark. If I disappear do know why. But suspect the worst; your groundless worries flatter me all to hell. We're all going to die sooner or later. I want to believe I'll be mourned.

I didn't make it but a few more miles. It was a seventeen-mile day. Plus a few more hiking to and fro. I'll try to do better tomorrow. But I still haven't the faintest idea where I'm going, nor do I know how to get there. I wish to heck the sun would come out. It makes things brighter somehow.

Find me again on the side of the highway, not too very far east of town. I have a bad feeling about the place but that may be the general gloom. I passed a WalMart a couple miles back. I may have to go there tomorrow. And see if they can sell me shoes. Mine have gone and exploded.

It will drop into the thirties tonight. It will be colder still tomorrow. And even colder the day after that. Then it is meant to be warm. We'll see, we'll see. I do miss the sun. I wish I knew where I was going. Goodnight.
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Let me remind you that there are a few photographs on my Facebook page. I must again rely on one of you to provide the link. Thank you for your kind support.
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Monday, October 17, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Forty-Three, Moisture

There was no warm breeze when I woke up this morning. It was in fact rather cold. Not in my sleeping bag, do understand. It was just lovely in there. But it was all I could do to unzip and climb out. It seemed a good day to stay in bed.

It was seven-thirty when I did get up. The sky was a swirling grey. But my little computer was glad to assure me that there would be no rain. My own dim sense predicted a downpour, but I deferred to their expertise.

There was a time in America when weather reports were delivered by bikini girls and comedians. All the real professionals were detached to the military. To ensure the success of rocket launches and landings on hostile shores. But like GPS and laser pointers, meteorology has filtered down. Now every TV weatherman has his own Doppler radar to play with. Add to that the Power of the Internet and I could not be in better hands.

The grey day gave me a hash browns jones. I set out in search of breakfast. I walked four miles this way and that, misled by freeway signs. At one point I thought I'd ask a local. I saw a lady by her car. "Excuse me," I said, most becomingly. She jumped in and locked her door. To think I trimmed my glorious beard to put people like her at their ease. What a waste of chin whiskers. I'm lucky she didn't mace me.

I settled on a Pepsi at a gas station. Their coffee had a sour smell. And climbed down to Highway 63 and resumed my long walk south. Four or five miles to Deer Park, Missouri. To another gas station. A sign promised "home cooking" or "like Mom used to make" or something along those lines.

Mom, it seems, used to over-fry things in very old oil, heap it into stainless steel tubs and let them sit for two or three days under heat lamps in a dirty glass case. Mom is lucky the health department didn't shut her down.

The coffee was good, that's a rarity. Strong and thicker than her gravy. I had a very large cup and another and sat down to do some typing. And to recharge my computer, which didn't deserve it, the black-hearted little traitor. It had been behaving most abominably and had caused me all manner of grief.

I have read the diaries of the pioneers who made their way west in wagons. About their privations and awful disease, the losses they met on the trail. They would kindle their fires with arrows plucked from those they once held most dear. But one hardship they never faced was the Samsung Galaxy Tab.

I am being unfair, I suppose. It has held up fairly well. And too often in less than ideal conditions. It does seem to get the job done. But it is a monster pain in the ass and they really ought to mention that in their ads.

As I typed the grey skies disappeared and were replaced by something black. There were dramatic streaks of lightning at all points on the horizon. But I'd been there two hours. No one ever got rich just by sitting around. I covered my pack and strapped on my raincoat and headed out the door.

I made it all of two steps before the rain hit. I could have turned around. But I was in a mood for walking and more so for martyrdom. My next town was but seven miles off. I could get there in less than two hours. And show the people in passing cars that I was tougher than them.

It is hard to be tough in soggy socks. That's why we lost Viet Nam. My shoes once claimed to be waterproof but that was a shameful lie. GORE-TEX®, from the Latin, meaning pruny and brittle toes.

But I kept my head up, out of pride, misplaced and so far unearned. Four miles up I passed a roadside park which featured a picnic shelter. Where I sat for three hours and watched the storm and wondered if it would have killed them to ground the tin roof against lightning.

And I ate some beef and what I think were carrots and handsful of M&M's. And put on dry socks and stuffed my feet into thoroughly soggy shoes. But it ain't like I was just lounging around. I was hopping up and down the whole time. And trying to dry myself from within by thinking the warmest of thoughts.

I remembered sitting under a bridge east of Billings, amongst snakeskins and animal bones. It was a hundred and something that afternoon. There are all kinds of ways life can suck.

The rain stopped and I ambled on. I feigned enthusiasm. It wasn't there but if you'll excuse the expression, it pays to bullshit yourself. Positive Thinking and all that rot. The lightning was spectacular. And I knew I'd regret my blasphemies if it were to strike me dead. If there were time, at any rate. I wondered how much it would hurt.

I ate Mexican food for lunch. I did not learn the town's name. Ashville or Ashcan or something like that. I was too cold to care. It never got out of the forties today. There was no sun in the sky. But you will perspire; my T-shirt was wet and clammy against my skin. Some lady at a sporting goods store in Sioux City tried to sell me some fancy shirt that isn't clammy in cold weather, but it cost fifty bucks. And I didn't believe her.

It was by then four-thirty and I had not yet got much walking done. It had stopped raining so I hit the road and hammered out eight more miles. Traffic was fast and heavy and visibility was low. I had to keep focused on every oncoming car, watching where they were in their lane. And trying to predict which idiot was going to squish me flat.

The speed limit is 70 here. That means everyone goes 85. What they don't understand is just because their engine will get them that speed doesn't mean their piece-of-crap cars have the suspension to control it. Add in slick roads, the odd crosswind and an oh-so-interesting cell phone conversation and what you've got is attempted murder.

Of me.

You know, I've gathered unto myself some very kind-hearted supporters on this trip. God-fearing people, willing to overlook my more obvious failings and to see the better James within. So I'm hesitant to admit that one day I am going to meet one of these idiot drivers and bloody his fool nose.

Unless he's real big. I ain't a madman.

It meant a lot of staring into headlights, and squinting to spot the idiots who left their headlights off. It rather left me hyp-mo-tized, like those fellows who sort our mail. They often go on shooting sprees. All I'll ever do is gripe.

So it's eighteen miles for the day; kind of weak, I know. I have until the day after tomorrow to get five-hundred miles south. Then the temperature drops to a point where I no longer fear the rain. Only the Yeti and cold-blackened toes. Thank Heaven for that small blessing.

It is raining now. Vigorously. There is a spectacular storm. With but the merest heartbeat or two separating flash and explosion. I am camped in a beautiful spot, on a high rock cliff overlooking the freeway. It is pretty here, a dozen miles from Jefferson City. There are trees and deep valleys. "Hollers" I think they may be called. I only wish it were warmer.

MANY YOUNG people go into meteorology for the sole purpose of getting on TV. The same is true of journalists and, believe it or not, chefs. And politicians and Hollywood wives and the odd serial killer. I used to want to be on television, but now I'm less sure. I don't know that I'd like the company.

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Day One-Hundred-Forty-Two, What's For Dinner


I was told, I forget now by whom, that Missouri is warm south of I-70. This has since been contradicted by many dozens of people, but I hold it to be true. Believe the lies that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy and free.

It was awfully warm when I woke up, like a late spring afternoon. It was yet some minutes before seven o'clock. The sun was barely up. But I was caressed by balmy breezes. It was upwards of sixty degrees. And with me more than twenty miles north of that magic I-70.

It was a spectacularly beautiful day for walking. I set out in just a T-shirt. My legs were strong and my feet weren't unhappy. I've been having some nice luck there. In order to be on one end or the other of Columbia, Missouri, this would have to be either an eighteen or a twenty-seven mile day. I ate a cheese sandwich and then ate another and decided on twenty-seven.

As far as I knew there would be no civilisation between me and the city. I found a restaurant ten miles in. On the side of the road sort of up on a bluff. I wasn't so terribly hungry. But I knew I could do with something to drink. Cheese do make a boy thirsty. And my little computer needed a boost. I waded my way through the crowd.

For this was a wildly popular cafe. I had trouble finding a seat. I don't recall just what it was called. I know it began with an H. Heur's or Huerer's or something like that. Hooters, possibly. I ordered a cheeseburger out of habit and drank seventeen Cokes.

It was rather an ugly cheeseburger but it tasted plenty good. Toasted buns, I swear that's the secret. It came with crinkle-cut fries. Crinkle-cut fries are an abomination. I cannot be clearer than that. But it was nutty popular. People just love the place. I don't even think it was near a town. They did not have much of a sign. The decor did not in any way inspire and the waitresses were overworked. But they must be doing something right. I should have asked more questions.

That's why I so like eating in saloons. In a bar people talk to each other. But at a cafe I just sit at a table, all by my lonesome self. I did meet some nice people as I was leaving and was pleased to talk to them some. But talking to people at their tables seems to me bad form. Even if they talk to me first. I climbed back on the road.

With a burst of strength. I was surprised. I was worried I'd eaten too much. But the few kind words I got on my way out the door really put a spring in my step. As did the Cokes, I rather suspect. There's power in sugar and caffeine. The sun was still out. I took off like a rocket and walked another ten miles.

The land is prettier here, as well. I don't want to hurt any feelings but it has been sort of ugly these past few days. The fields have all been harvested. The trees are a rusty brown. The grass is dead and the landscape itself is nothing but flat and plain. But here there are hills and the road winds a bit. Here and there it is cut through rock. I like a little variety. I don't move so very fast.

Greater Columbia is home to some 160,000 people. It is by all accounts a pretty nice town. People are friendly and educated. They tend to vote on the Left. But I was afraid I'd get stuck in there and have to stay in a motel. Which would cut sharply into my food budget and delay my next day's start. Cable TV can mesmerize me. I don't sleep well in soft beds.

But I needn't have worried. Highway-63 goes politely around the edge of town. It's a shame, really. Columbia is the first city I might have actually liked. Bozeman was OK, I guess, but Spokane was a hole. A Scoutmaster was rude to me, a fat guy in tasselled socks. I try to laugh off that sort of thing. I was not rude back. But a not so very small part of me wishes I had kicked his ass.

Billings was snotty. Sioux City was awfully hard to walk through. But here inside the city limits I was still in the trees. Highway-63 is crazy big here. It has expanded to six lanes wide. I feel a little foolish walking here, but I guess it's my legal right. Nobody yelled at me, at any rate, but they looked at me like I was nuts. And there were lots of on and off ramps to negotiate. I did have to pay attention.

I was met on the side of the road by the Gallup family, Darren and Ada and Madison. I had met them at the cafe. I did not know them at first. They brought me all manner of treats. Coconut M&M's, which I've never had, but which sound very good indeed. And healthful fruit and vegetables and seventeen pounds of beef.

I was sorry about the beef; it must have cost a fortune. But I am since informed that Ada has powerful connections in the Missouri beef industry. I can more or less speak Japanese. Maybe she can get me a job. That was the big thing twenty years ago, selling beef to the Japanese. I guess they sell it to the Chinese now. I've been to China. Didn't like it.

I am chewing on a hunk of beef now. Thank you, kind Gallups!

My only regret regarding their kindness is that they did not catch me in a sour mood. Nothing better cheers me than encouragement along the road. But I'd been fairly sunny all day long. That is my misfortune.

I was well on pace for a thirty-mile day. I quit after twenty-five. Or twenty-four, I cannot be sure. It was a silly mistake. I've been nervous about the sun going dowj before I find a place to camp. Today I quit almost two hours early. I guess I misjudged the time.

I guess I am still in Columbia, some two miles south of I-70. In another hobo spot, tucked in on the side of the road. With traffic zipping by. It really is awfully loud. But I'll sleep well. I always do. I'll dream about the ocean.

MY TOOTHPASTE has exploded inside my pack. I can tell by the smell. I'll inspect the damage tomorrow. It is more than I can cope with right now.

MY LITTLE COMPUTER was threatening thirty degrees for next Wednesday. Then it went up to thirty-six. Now they are saying thirty-four, but Tuesday is supposed to drop to thirty-two. Why do they toy with me so?

I SAW TWO coyotes today, one live and one dead. I hear them almost every night but these are the first I've seen. Handsome fellows, both of them. One a little more so.

THIS IS WHERE you would have me qualify my earlier remarks by stating that I have nothing but the greatest respect for the Boy Scouts of America. Well, I don't. One hopes the FBI is keeping an eye on them, like it would any paramilitary organisation.
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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Day One-Hundred-Forty-One, Moberly, More Moberly, Most Moberly

I woke up alongside a barbed wire fence, on which there were two signs. JACKSONVILLE SEWAGE TREATMENT, said the one. The other said, NO TRESPASSING.

That first sign was enough for me, though it guarded a sweet little pond. It must get tempting on summer days, or when the catfish are jumping. I know it was lovely the night before. The moon was mirrored in the sludge. You must look for Beauty where you find it and try not to smell too hard.

Find me now in a patch of woods, just off Highway 63. I walked twenty-five miles and could have gone on, but I could not see what was up ahead. It looked like there were some houses or something. I might not find a place for my tent. Good enough is good enough. I don't like to camp in the dark.

I spent a diverting half-hour clearing a space, waiting for the sun to go down. This is one of those spots where I cannot be seen, so long as it isn't daylight. I pulled up saplings and moved sticks and stones. I cut back the prickle bushes. I invited the snakes to go away and come back after I've gone.

Missouri is a snaky state. I am wading through the things. They wrap themselves around my ankles and put extra weight on my knees. They seem to harbor some affection for me. They follow me wherever I go. I don't want to hurt their detestable feelings but I wish they'd just leave me alone.

I spent most of my morning hiking into Moberly, Missouri, a fairly good-sized town. I couldn't say how many people live there; they've got a Walmart and likely a mall. It is depressed, not to say depressing. Their chief industry is check-cashing. I saw a fairly decent house on sale for forty-nine grand.

But I do like that name, Moberly. It pleases me. It is fun to say. Moberly. Moberly. Moberly, Missouri. It sounds so friendly and comfortable. Maybe just a bit overweight. And I've long been fond of -ly words that are not adverbs, like lovely and comely and such. Slatternly, beastly, womanly, kindly. Moberly, Missouri.

It was a twelve or thirteen mile walk into town. When I got there I was all but starving. My meatloaf sandwich from the day before had pretty well worn off. And the cheesecake, too, and the cherries on top. I thought I might keel over dead. I am a big eater as a rule; I'm a man of large appetites. And I like to have them met when I can. When I can't it makes me all grumpy.

Moberly gets four highway exits. 63 is like a freeway here. I took the first one because it promised food, but the food was two more miles off. I finally wound up at a Hardee's. I don't much care for fast food. But I had a big burger and two "apple pies" and two-and-a-half gallons of Coke.

And everyone was real nice to me, just like at a real restaurant. I was there for two-hours. They sang Happy Birthday to some old guy. A kid invited me to a dinner party, I think because he thought I was homeless. If you absolutely must eat at a Hardee's, go to the one in Moberly.

Moberly. Moberly, Moberly. Say it. Moberly. It's a nice name.

I got some charge on my computer, but not nearly enough. If I drop out of sight tomorrow, know there's a chance I'm not dead. You might say a few good words about me anyway. I don't object to being eulogised.

I took the scenic route through town. There wasn't so much to see. I bought some bagels and something called "farmers cheese", which between you and me sounds gross. Like some kind of fungus you might pick up from standing in topsoil all day. Or rubbing elbows with livestock. Anyway, it was on sale.

I retook my highway and headed south. People are driving fast. The road takes itself very seriously here, and is not so pedestrian friendly. But there's a good wide shoulder with bumpity strips. I'll be off it in a couple of days. Now I don't really have much choice. I'm headed to Columbia, Missouri.

Which is huge, I think. I'd just as soon go around, but I've got to cross the Missouri. It seems all I do on this trip is cross the Missouri River. I must have crossed it a dozen times in Montana, once or twice where it was six feet wide. And it had me trapped in Nebraska and made me walk forty miles north. But here it divides the state in two, and there are only so many ways across.

Charles Kuralt said that America is defined not by its highways but by its rivers. And he was cool with that. But he was well paid and widely beloved and rode around in a bus.

Tomorrow will have to be a very short day or an impossibly long one. Columbia is twenty-some miles off. I either have to pull up short or try to blast all the way through. I have limited hotel funds and would like to save them for a thirty-degree night.

Speaking of which, my little computer was threatening thirty degrees Wednesday night. But it took some smalk pity on me and upped its estimate to thirty-six. Which is still damned cold but less likely to kill me.

"I hear it's warmer south of Columbia," I told a woman. I'm sure there was hope in my voice. She rolled her eyes, inhaled sharply and laughed right in my face.
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