The previous night I stuffed my backpack with items I plan to lug across the country between January and June 2018. And though the contents added up to nearly 30 pounds, they mostly resembled what I’d haul on a two night, no-frills camping trip. The basic essentials including a day’s worth of high-calorie snacks and 6 total liters of water. Turns out one liter of water weighs 2.2 lbs—which means nearly half my pack’s total weight is water. Hopefully, once I get on the road, I never go too long without this much water on my person. I can already feel that sinking feeling that can (and likely will) come when I’m not sure where my next liter will come from. Four empty bottles in my pack and a dry mouth. And me standing on the roadside waving a laminated sign to passing cars that says, “Walking across America and need water.” I wonder, would I stop for me?
My training walks have all unveiled a sort of theme over the course of twenty plus miles. During each I found myself regularly contemplating philosophical things like death, time, fear, and intentionality. I figured this walk would be no different. In fact, as I set out from my home in Carrboro on a mid-morning Thursday, I sensed a lingering thrill for this unknown introspection.
But this time none came.
Folks always ask me what I think about when I walk for 6+ hours. Well, this week I can confidently say the answer is nothing. Pretty much nothing at all. Now, as I sit down to reflect on yesterday’s full day of walking, I feel soreness in my legs and knobby muscles in my shoulders. But I can’t, for the life of me, remember much of anything that filled the space between my ears. The highlight of the day, in fact, might be when I found a torn portion of a $10 bill. Yes, it was a gorgeous fall day, but even as I try to relive the leaf-changing, blue sky scenery I come up blank.
Basically, I started, and then six hours and nearly nineteen miles later, I stopped. And that was it.
Now that I’m thinking about it, there was that ghostly stretch along Durham’s RTP (Research Triangle Park) where giant industrial campuses are no longer inhabited by big companies. Sort of like a shut down university with a groomed landscape meant to dupe folks into thinking it’s still active. Giant “for lease” signs had obviously been there a long time. I walked past such entrances for about 3 miles. And frankly, it was wonderfully peaceful after battling shoulder-less stretches of Highway 54 where I could literally reach out and touch cars passing by in excess of 55 miles per hour.
Reminded me of my best friend Kent who walked across the USA a few years ago. He said one of the greatest places to sleep was a cemetery. I wonder if I too will welcome the company of the dead after spending my day trying to avoid joining them.
Then, like a time traveler, less than 24 hours after knocking out my first full-pack trial, I find myself in California. I’m out here visiting a friend for the weekend but begin the quick trip with a walk along the Santa Monica pier. A recon mission – this is where I plan to start my 4000 mile jaunt. The pier is a madhouse. Always has been. I pay $7 bucks to park at the beach, then walk through a thick pedestrian sea along shiny wooden beams. I notice all the clichés: your name on a grain of rice, palm readers, a cut out silhouette of your head, trinkets and postcards, churros and cups of cut mango. I take a few photos and am hesitant to leave. Feeling anxious, like I expect something to happen. But, just like yesterday, nothing does.
And maybe therein lies the lesson. Nothing needs to happen for everything to just keep on going. I find myself in a flow of no expectation, appreciation of the mundane, and finding pennies here and there on the ground. And you know what? I couldn’t be happier.