Thursday, December 29, 2011

Day Two-Hundred-Sixteen, R.I.P.

My REI-brand self-inflating air mattress has died.  I miss it already.  No less as I'm lying here on my side typing up this day's notes.  I am reminded of how cold and lonesome this world can be.  And how very very hard. 

I didn't even want the blasted thing.  The boy at the shop talked me into it.  Air mattresses, I thought, were for dilettantes.  Tough guys, he said, use them too.  And I've been glad to have it though it has never been the softest bed I have slept on.  At best it evened out the bumps.  It spread the pain around.  So I could wake up as one solid ache.  It democratised misery.

It never really did self-inflate, not like a Navy life raft.  It would suck in air to a certain extent.  I had to puff in the rest.  In recent months I had come to dread deflating it in the morning.  It would send forth a spew of godawful breath, no less offensive for being my own.

I have to wonder if that's what rotted it.  It has suffered internal damage.  It is in its way like a broken heart.  There are some things that duck tape can't fix.

Sad, sad.  Nothing is forever.  Least of all camping gear.  Which tends to be designed for the weekender, no matter what it says in the brochure.  You might climb Mount Everest; you're up and down in a month.  You might take the Scouts on an outing.  But use it day in and use it day out and it will eventually fail.

I thought my backpack would be the next one to go.  It's holding on by a thread.  And God knows I have been through a few pairs of shoes and at least as many socks.  I burned holes through my underwear.  That's my passionate nature.  And I'll probably walk with a modest limp for the rest of my life.

Or not.  Who knows.  I may recuperate.  Some weeks back Iost a toe nail.  But it has grown back.  My battle-scarred heart continues to beat in my chest.  I'm getting stronger not weaker.  If I had more daylight I'd be doing thirty miles a day.  Today I managed twenty-three, and that with a fairly late start.

I slept well in my swamp by the cemetery.  The crocodiles kept to themselves.  The snakes stayed hidden.  No right-thinking zombie would want to eat my brains.  They're good brains as brains go.  They're fairly quick.  They do well on standardised tests.  But they've never been able to apply themselves.  They get in their own way.

I breakfasted just up the road, in Westville at the Whistle Stop Cafe.  A tiny place with a railroad theme.  I'm awfully fond of trains.  They fed me well and were kind to me.  It was a very good start to my day.

Too good perhaps.  I did not want to leave.  I was for a moment discouraged.  I wake up, I walk.  What's it all mean?  It is the same thing every day.  But it is the same good thing.  I've grown very fond of Florida's Highway 90.  It is wide and smooth and beautiful and not too very well travelled.  There is a decent shoulder which in most cases I do not have to use.  I prefer the grass by the side of road.  I keep a keen eye out for gators.

"You'll be fine if you don't go near the water."  I get that one a lot.  But have a glance at a map of Florida.  Have Google show it from space.  It's all water, lakes and ponds, swamps and rivers and sloughs.  Every time I pass a mud puddle I feel their eyes on me.

I'm told they won't eat me right away.  They like their meat aged some.  They'll kill me and stuff me up under a bank until I get all sqooshy.  They are good biters but they don't chew well.  They want something they can suck through a straw.

I passed through Caryville without noticing.  I am following the train tracks again.  There's been a town every few miles.  That's how the railroad did things.  They needed a place to take on water.  Many have faded away.  Some have thrived and some persist out of nothing but stubborn pride.

At Bonifay I had my lunch, chicken and black-eyed peas.  And cornbread and hushpuppies and yeller rice.  We eat well in the South.  I finished with a bowl of banana pudding.

With Nilla wafers.  It is standard down here.  It should be so everywhere.

I was honored to meet Ms. Wilhelmina Belcer.  She came up and chatted with me.  Which means I don't look too much like a hobo, or that some people don't too much care.  Either way I'm encouraged.

She has lived in Bonifay all her life.  Her grandfather homesteaded there.  Back in eighteen-seventy-something.  A barn he built is still standing.  Now she has kids and grandkids to love.  A handsome bunch.  Many were there.  Together they conspired to buy me lunch.  I was much pleased by the gesture.

Tbe sky had gone a bit black by then.  I was a little concerned.  It rains when it rains in Florida.  It would make Noah blush.  But it cleared up. It was just a threat to keep me up on my toes.  I hiked on to Chipley, Florida.  I was surprised by the size of that town.

Chipley brags about developing kudzu, a dubious honor at best.  But it seemed a nice town otherwise.  Tbey've got a good looking church.  And a number of state offices, surrounded by a hurricane fence.  To keep the bureaucrats from escaping.  So their neighbors can sleep at night.

I walked through without stopping.  I meant to buy a Fruit Pie.  Breakfast tomorrow is some miles off.  I thought it would make a nice snack.  But it wouldn't have lasted til the morning.  Fruit Pies never do.  My tent is like a black hole for fruit pies.  They never last too long.

But what weight I gained at the Knightens' seems to have disappeared.  In three short days.  Good exercise, this.  We are an awfully fat nation.  I have the cure.  Hit the road.  Try to carry something heavy.

My computer tells me it is fifty degrees.  Maybe it is up the road.  But I'm in the woods and covered in fog.  I'm just a little bit chilly.  And the ground is hard and lumpy too.  I intend to sleep well.

I HAVEN'T enjoyed my goodnight pee since I wound up down here.  You never know what a gator might snap off.  It'll make a boy shrink with fear.

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