Athens to Atlanta
I know it’s been many days between actual blog posts. It’s hard, to be honest, to do this on my iPad. I need really good WiFi, time and the energy to just do it!! Every time I go several days without posting I tell myself that tomorrow I’m going to start doing a short one every day instead of one a week. Well, I never start that but I’m working on it!!
So much incredible to share. I loved Athens!! What a great town! Huge college town with a great downtown area full of bars, cool restaurants, students everywhere and statues of Uga the Bulldog decorated in dozens of ways in front of many businesses and landmarks. That town is seriously into their UGA Football! I stayed with a cool guy named David I met on WarmShowers. He’s a grad student at UGA and he cycled from Key West to Canada a few years ago. He had a really great photo book on his table that gave me some great ideas. He lived very close to downtown in a neat little house that had plenty of room for me and Wink. I really appreciate him allowing me there for 2 nights with Wink. I needed a day off and I really wanted to tour around the town so he obliged the extra night.
I spent my day off in Athens walking a cool path down by the river and took lots of pics. Then we ventured into downtown and really just wandered around all day! We ate some great pizza and bought some gear at a local outfitter. I needed a good night to sleep so David and I ordered a pizza and Wink and I got to sleep pretty early.
My next day was destined for Monroe. I wasn’t sure where I was going to sleep but I had some time to figure that out. Rain was on the way…of course…but I was going to hold out until I figured out how bad it was going to be. It’s weird around here with the weather. It goes from good to bad to good so fast! And there’s always the chance of a monster thunderstorm which really sucks when you’re outside! I’m still getting used to stealth camping. It’s weird, really, because I have no fear of the thousands of cars and trucks that fly by me every day within inches of my body but stealth camping kinda freaks me out still! And I’m not really great at it. It takes me too long to set up and break down. I need to get better at that. There’s quite a bit of camping coming up very soon!
I ended up getting a very dumpy little hotel room just outside of Monroe. This was one of those weekly rate type places across the highway from a Walmart distribution center. There were cops out in the parking lot several times and the couple in the room next to me decided to yell at each other most of the night. Paper thin walls. BUT, the oddest thing about this place was that the bathroom was ultra modern like it had been remodeled yesterday even though the sleeping area hadn’t been touched in at least 150 years.
The next day we actually entered Monroe. The motel was about a mile or so from the eastern border of town. When we entered downtown Monroe I was surprised at how quaint the downtown area was. Funny to call it downtown, really, because I think it was just “town”. Not sure there was an uptown or sidetown. I met a nice guy on the corner and asked him about possible places to get coffee and breakfast and he was headed across the street to a coffee shop called Camper Coffee Co. Sooo happy I followed him there! What a great place. Super good coffee and bagels and muffins. He ordered before me then I stepped up and ordered a large latte, 3 bagels with cream cheese (2 to go), a blueberry muffin and 4 bottles of water. He and I were chatting the whole time about my walk and he introduced me to the girl that was in line behind me and the people working there. Everyone knew everyone and they were all so interested in our journey and the giant cart outside and the solar panels and Wink and really everything! Then he paid for my tab! OK…had I known he was going to do this I wouldn’t have “gone shopping” for the day! I ordered a lot of stuff!! He didn’t care and insisted on paying. Wink and I sat and spoke with some other locals and had such a nice start to our day. I could have sat there all day but we had a host family in a town called Snellville and that was 26 miles away so we needed to get the feet moving! We were heading up a smaller highway and google maps sent me down a side road to cut over to highway 78. The road it sent me down was Rowe Street. I have to say that, thus far, this was the most peaceful, beautiful street I’ve walked. It was a 2 mile journey on a rolling, freshly paved road lined by large trees, ponds, massive homes on incredibly large properties. Everything on this road was immaculate like it was out of a painting. There was a big lake surrounded by homes that you just don’t see out where I live. It was also quite early on a Saturday morning so there was zero traffic. On that 2 mile stretch only 2 cars passed me. It was so strange to me because Monroe seemed to be a very small, middle class town but here I was looking at mansions and perfect fences and lawn statues and fountains and a tree lined lake. It was really beautiful. It finally dumped me onto the highway and, for a few moments, I really missed that road! Halfway to Snellville we went through a one light town called Between. It’s exactly halfway between Monroe and Snellville. Well, I guess the name of the town is not just appropriate but kinda funny, too.
I’m not sure if I’ve shared my tire experience for the past 50 miles or so. If I have then this is repeat plus new bonus material. I started my journey with a solid tube front tire and two red pneumatic tires on the back. I had two spare complete tire setups strapped to the bottom of my cart. My rear tires are quick release on/off tires and the spares are ready to pop on and go. This allows for me to keep walking when I get a flat and fix the flat when I stop for the day. I can thank Eric Keeler for recommending carrying complete, ready to go spares. Well, back in Whiteville, NC, several days earlier, I needed to lighten my load so I sent one of the spare tires home with a bunch of other stuff. I lightened my cart that day by almost 20 pounds. A much needed diet for Alexa. So now I had 1 spare set up strapped to the bottom. Several days earlier the left rear “red” tire had a blowout. Not a puncture wound flat but a complete blowout. I had basically worn out the tread and that tire was done. That was around mile marker 350. So now I was down to zero spare tires but I did have back up tubes. Back then I put the spare on so I had 1 red and 1 black tire on the rear. Which is fine – I wasn’t trying to win “best looking cart” in any competition. I had ordered a new tire on Amazon and it was being shipped to the house I was staying at outside of Atlanta but that was 4 days away from my then current location of just outside of Monroe on the way to Snellville. And that just happens to be when Red #2 showed a bulge. Uh oh. I had at least 20 miles to go and my second red tire was about to blow and I didn’t have a spare. Crap. There was no bike shop anywhere near me. I stopped and assessed the situation. Black tire all good. It only had about 50 miles on it at this point. Red tire had a hole in it about the size of a toothpick but the inner tube hadn’t burst through the hole yet. It definitely did not have 20 miles in it. I called a few bike shops and found one on the other side of Snellville that happened to have 20” tires in stock but they were closing long before I could get there. They listened to my story and offered to deliver the tires to the house I was staying at that night! So cool! Aztec Bikes in Stone Mountain is awesome!! But I still had to figure out how to get to the house – 20 miles away – with a hole in my tire that was ready to go. So I grabbed some luko tape from my bag. Luko tape is like super strong cloth bandage tape you put over blisters or wounds and it stays put for a few days. It’s pretty great stuff. Not strong like duck tape but super strong skin type tape. I wrapped up the wheel in luko tape around and around like a bandage over a wound in hopes of it getting me 20 miles. This, naturally, created a bump on the outside of my tire that caused my cart to pop up every time the wheel rotated – like having a rock in the bottom of your shoe – but it held! It was annoying as hell but it worked!
Amanda, the woman that I was meeting at her house – warned me that their driveway was really steep and even offered to drive down and pull me up but I declined. She wasn’t lying. That was a steep, steep driveway! But we got up to the top, caught our breath and knocked on the door. I get extra credit for the driveway.
Amanda and John are engaged and they have a large, mixed family. I think she has 3 kids and he has 4. Some are grown and some are still school age. Some live there and some don’t. I didn’t meet them all but I met two of her sons and their incredibly large dog who was instantly good buddies with Wink. I think they said he weighed 105 pounds! They had a big house and I was staying in one of the rooms where a younger daughter normally stays but she was with her father that weekend so it was open for me. Amanda and John made a huge dinner of corned beef hash, garlic butter rolls, broccoli and glazed carrots. OMG it was awesome!! I ate so much that night! After dinner I made my way to the patio to repair all my tires and did some laundry and was in bed quite early.
We woke up pretty early with a big day ahead of us and I had a really nice time sitting with Amanda eating pancakes and drinking coffee. It was a Saturday and the rest of the family was sleeping in. She was sweet to get up and make me pancakes. We had a really nice conversation about life, her recovery process and how she met John after his wife had passed away several years earlier. She asked me why I was walking. I met her through Brett Bramble – another crosser who is deeply connected and involved in the recovery field – and I knew that Amanda, who also works in recovery, was no stranger to tough life stories. I was very comfortable talking with her about some of my personal reasons for going on this journey and it was nice to have a quiet moment with her and share some stuff. Thanks Amanda.
OK – on our way. Atlanta was in our sights and I still didn’t know which route I was going to take. My goal was to get to Marietta by Monday night – two days away. I could either go straight through downtown Atlanta or up and over the top through the nicer, more suburban parts. I was really torn. I wanted to see the city on foot but walking Wink and Alexa in the city is hard. I also wasn’t familiar with the neighborhoods and every big city has the good and the bad. These were going to be two long days in a row and I didn’t know where I was sleeping that night yet. I called my friend Kimberly who works for Hyatt and asked her opinion and if she could get me some discounts somewhere in Atlanta. She helped out huge!! She got me a great rate at a Hyatt in Sandy Springs which is in the northern loop area of Atlanta so I steered Alexa in that direction. It was a good walk that day. The weather was good and, despite the fact that we had 25 miles to go, it was a pretty decent walking day.
One thing I have noticed in both small towns and large cities I’d like to share with you. I’m not going on a political rant but, rather, just sharing what I’ve witnessed first hand several times now that is bothersome to me. It is crystal clear that there is a massive difference in the amount of money spent in poor neighborhoods vs. more affluent neighborhoods. I don’t know how cities decide where to spend resources on basic public infrastructure like streets and sidewalks but something really needs to change. The less affluent and poor neighborhoods are a mess. Everywhere. Small and big towns. Most poor neighborhoods have no sidewalks at all and, if they do, they’re broken and dangerous to walk on. It’s not uncommon to have to jump on and off the sidewalks to avoid huge holes or upturned concrete chunks or fallen trees or whatever. I struggle with my cart and dog as I watch kids and families walking in the streets to get to the market. Then you step a few blocks into a more affluent neighborhood and the sidewalks are wide and well maintained. If there does happen to be spot without a sidewalk in the nicer places they have clear shoulders. Basically it’s pretty easy and safe to walk anywhere in a nicer area but, in MOST areas without money, it is NOT easy and it is NOT safe. Now, I’m not sure if sidewalks fall under the city or county but I can say that in the EXACT same city or town the ability to safely walk, with our without a cart and a dog, is not the same for both types of neighborhoods. Perhaps neighborhood pride in less affluent areas would be better if the city would spend the same monies on their safety as they do in the nicer areas. It’s pretty sad, actually. Not for me but for those that live in that mess.
OK, done with that.
Checked in to the Hyatt and we were out. We ordered some local bbq to be delivered and we were done for the night.
We got a late start to our day on Monday. We had a few errands to run before heading to Marietta where we had a host family. We stopped in at REI and PetSmart to gather a few goods. That day and the next miles were going to total about 32 and I decided to split the difference by having my host family pick me up after about 12 miles and drop me off the next day. Several miles into the day a family approached me and said they were looking for me! Turns out that I am connected to Joanne Rasmussen Barnes on FB. Her son, Noah, walked across America with his dad a few years earlier to raise money for diabetes research. They live a bit outside of Atlanta and they used my GPS tracker to hunt me down and drove out to see me! It was so cool! We talked for a while and they brought me a MRE for my journey. So cool!!
Steve Milby, brother of my friend Nancy Milby back home, drove out and grabbed me in his truck when we made it up a huge, steep hill and took me to his house. I was having some cramps in my legs from not stretching well enough and was happy to only have to go a dozen or so miles that day. Steve and his wife Pat made me a huge dinner of bbq ribs, potatoes and asparagus and we sat around and had some really nice conversation.
I had been told by many people that, when I get to Marietta, I had to look for the Big Chicken. That’s all I was told. Look for that Big Chicken. I had no clue what they were talking about but I found it!! On the main road heading through town is a Kentucky Fried Chicken that has a ridiculously large chicken shaped building. The top of the chicken has a beak that opens and closes and eyes that roll around in their sockets. My thought was, “Wait, that’s the big chicken everyone has been telling me about?? A KFC? LMFAO!” But I guess it’s been there for a very long, long time. Steve has lived here 25 years and it was here when he arrived. Here’s a pic of The Big Chicken for your enjoyment.
Since I didn’t have a huge day on Tuesday, we took a detour back to my stopping location to see the Kennesaw Battlefield near his home. Steve loves Civil War and WWII history and knew all about the Illinois Monument and the fateful day back in 1864 when 4000 soldiers were killed on that large, grassy field. It was my first time visiting a battlefield in the US and it was incredibly moving. I felt incredibly connected to our history for the first time in my life. We left there after about 30 minutes so I could get on the road but I was in a very different mood than before we had stopped there.
I started walking and realized that my path was going to take me on the same route as the battlefield and decided to detour about 2 miles so that I could do a facebook live post from the same spot. I really wanted to share that place with my friends and family and I’m so happy I did. Armed with my phone and the hopefully accurate memories of the facts and stories Steve had shared with me, I went live. It was worth the detour and I will forever have the video and memory of that field.
I had to get moving. I was behind schedule and expected at my next host home by 5 and my ETA was 6. Walk!!!!
My next stop was super special. I was headed to a suburb of Atlanta called Powder Springs where three families live. When Holden was a baby, just a few months old, Leslie and I hired a nanny named Lori Mora. Holden would end up calling her Lolo. Lolo is married to Al and they have two daughters Wendy and Helen. The daughters ended up marrying two brothers named Cesar and Jose. So that’s kinda odd! Lolo and her family became a part of ours 22 years ago. Lolo was with Holden well into his school days and then worked with me at Dish for awhile as well. Wendy and her family moved to Atlanta several years ago and, eight years later, Lori, Al, Helen and Cesar all moved out to join them. They all live in the same neighborhood and I was so excited to see them! I was staying at Helen’s house for a night and couldn’t wait to get there!
As I was approaching the house Lolo came up the street with tears in her eyes and we hugged for a long, long time. She has been such a big part of my son’s life for so long and it was incredibly special to see her. They had some family from Costa Rica visiting and we all spent the night eating a great dinner that Cesar made and drank some beer and told stories. I met Oscar and Vivian, Cesar and Helen’s children, and they loved having Wink in their home.
I took Wednesday off to do some much needed repairs to Alexa including adjusting my brake cables (which requires me to completely unload my cart and flip it upside down – no easy task on the side of the road) and to replace my tires. I also decided to give Alexa a facelift with some new signage that allows people around me to more easily read about my journey and know that I’m not a homeless guy walking around with a dog. I also needed to get to a running store to get some new insoles. Errands and repairs done, I decided to look at the weather forecast for the next few days. My upcoming stretch is going to be on the Silver Comet Trail which is an old railway that’s been converted to a well maintained walking/cycling/running path. It starts in Atlanta and goes all the way to Alabama – three days of walking for me. Along the way I’ll be camping night one and maybe camp night two and no clue after that. Well, the weather forecast called for thunderstorms for the following few days so I decided to ask if I could stay at Helen’s for two more nights and head out on Saturday. No problem they said.
So that night I decided to make dinner for the family. We did a pizza party!! I made dough and sauce and got some toppings and I made a chocolate ganache cake for Felipe who is the nephew visiting from Costa Rica and it’s his birthday weekend. It was a nice dinner with some good wine and we all ate way too much food!
Today is another day off. It’s Friday and I’m getting ready for my departure tomorrow. My next big city is Memphis – about 350 miles away. I have a lot of towns between here and there but nothing significant and I’m kinda looking forward to getting back in smalltownville. I’m also going to be camping a lot. I’m very excited for the next three days of walking because I’m going to hit some significant milestones. I’ll hit 500 miles on Saturday and, on Monday, I’ll cross into Alabama and a new time zone change. The time zone change is very exciting for me. There are only three of them and I’m about to conquer #1. That’s huge!! I’ll share all three live so you can enjoy with me.