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  • Writer's pictureThomas Curran

Clarksville, AR to Warner, OK

May 2 to May 13

When I left Clarksville, without Wink, I was headed to a winery in Altus called Chateau Aux Arc (get the play on words? The winery is in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains). What a beautiful place! Huge vineyards, incredible tasting room and, best of all, an owner that certainly knows how to show a guest a good time! Audrey House is one bad ass business woman who rolled up several hours after I had arrived and was ready to do some wine tasting. Her friend Bailey was with her and celebrating her birthday and the night was a blast. We drank a ton of wine and, just when I thought we were winding down, Audrey announced we were gonna set some fires! What?? Yeah, so I guess it’s not uncommon for Audrey to light stuff on fire on her property. She has these huge bushes that surround her property and she occasionally burns them which is not only really cool and fun but it does something good for the air and soil. So, burn baby burn! These plants are about 6’ wide and much taller than me. We took hand rakes and a big lighter and reached into the middle of the bush and lit it up. We used the rakes to pull the rest of the bush into the flame and BOOM! Up in flames it went. We ended up lighting a half dozen or so on fire and took some pics and drank more wine until they burned out. So cool. Please note that it was around midnight when we started burning the bushes and I have no idea how this all looked to the neighbor across the street or anybody driving down the highway that ran in front of the property. I asked her if her neighbors cared and she said, “They’re getting used to it.” Audrey was a lot of fun and I had a great night. My tent was set up under her awning on a concrete patio because there was a big thunderstorm coming in that night. I finally got to sleep and was out very early the next day. I had 25 miles to go so early was necessary. Yes, I was a bit hungover but that burned off pretty quickly. The bummer part about that night was that my sleeping pad sprung a leak somehow and I slept on cold concrete all night. This is the second pad I’ve gone through. The first one sprung a leak so I returned it to REI in Atlanta and they gladly replaced it. Now, same brand pad, new leak. Ugh!!!!

I almost ran my cart right over this snake thinking it was a twig. Then it lunged towards my wheel and I jumped back real quick!

This was an old jailhouse. The small white sign on the front says Go To Church

I stayed the next night at the Mulberry Firehouse. The Mayor and Fire Chief met me at the house to let me in but let me back up about 3 miles. Rain was in the forecast all day but, like most forecasts I deal with down here, they’re never accurate. At mile 22 there was a very sudden downpour of heavy, heavy rain and the temperature dropped at least 15 degrees almost instantly. I wasn’t dressed for the cold because it had been muggy and hot up until then. In a split second I was soaked and shivering. I quickly pulled under a tree and gathered my rain coat and jacket and waited a bit to see if the rain would stop. I had about 3 miles left and it was not looking good. So I waited but it only got worse and, on top of the cold and rain, I was soon greeted with thunder, lightning and crazy wind. So I ran. Thankfully I didn’t have Wink with me and I didn’t care about the rain but the lightning was worrisome. It was fairly close and it was touching down. I don’t know if I’ve ever run 3 straight miles without stopping but there was no choice to walk. By the time I made it to the firehouse I was exhausted and drenched. Running that long against that wind and worrying about the lightning after walking 22 miles was just too much. I have to admit that I struggled in my mind and heart that night. I think I felt incredibly alone (which I was inside the house). I took a shower in the firehouse and had to use dish soap to cleanse my body and paper towels to dry off as I had lost my camp towel weeks earlier. After eating some dinner I decided to break my emotional funk I was in by having some fun. This firehouse had a fire pole so, of course, I had to set up my camera and take some video of me acting like an idiot and going down the pole. I’m not sure if they have cams in that firehouse but, if they do, they must have had some good footage to look at.

On my way to Fort Smith the next day I crossed my 1100 mile mark and crossed the Arkansas river for the first time. The bridge heading into Fort Smith went over the river and it was super sketchy! The shoulder was very narrow and it was mid day so traffic was a bit heavy but there were 4 lanes and I didn’t have Wink so it made it easier. I had no issues on the bridge but, needless to say, I was sweating a bit for sure! I stayed at the home of Tanya Sanders. Tanya is a friend of Lindsay Monroe and she introduced us. Tanya had a great, comfy bed for me, she had bottles of wine and, best of all, she had a hot tub!!! We sat in that tub drinking wine for 2-3 hours. It felt amazing!!! Tanya was an awesome host and I thank her so much. The next day was “get Wink back day!!”. Melissa Zabecki, who had coordinated the whole Wink exchange between me and her friend Steve Longacre, drove over an hour to FS to pick me up then back up to where she lives in Fayetteville. We went to Steve’s house and she filmed my reunion with my pup. It was awesome. I missed him so much!! Then she drove us all the way back to FS! She put in over 4 hours of driving that day just to help me get Wink back safely. LOVE LOVE you Mel!!!

The next day was Cinco de Mayo and I was staying another night in FS but in a hotel. Tanya was leaving to go out of town so I couldn’t crash at her house. Tanya, her niece and her niece’s daughter met me and Wink at a Mexican restaurant by my hotel and we celebrated the day with margaritas and lots of food. I was pretty buzzed by the time we left.

Leaving Arkansas was kind of a bummer for me the next day. I really loved that state. I met so many great people and the roads were awesome for walking! I was pretty much on Hwy 64 from the moment I entered Arkansas and it continued over the Arkansas River (2nd passing) and into Oklahoma. Me and Arkansas said our good byes and I kissed Oklahoma hello.

First thing I noticed about Oklahoma was the scenery change. It was almost instantaneous. The second thing I noticed was the XXX shops, massage parlors and “gentlemen’s” clubs immediately over the border. I’m not sure if these weren’t legal in Arkansas but they were very proudly on display right over the river. A good comparison would be passing from a dry county into a wet one and, the second you cross that line, stores are lined up to sell you booze. So, perhaps this was a “you’ve been deprived of sex shops and the like for so long that we couldn’t wait to have them ready for you” welcoming. No, we did not partake. They were not dog friendly. LOL…

Oklahoma, thus far, has been interesting. The first few days I stayed in some cheap motels while the thunderstorms passed. We walked in between the rain but didn’t get much distance in. On one particularly long day with no goal in mind, my mother texted me the name of a campground/RV resort about a mile off the highway. I checked it out online and it looked great. I went ahead and booked a night on a tent site next to the Trout River. A few miles before my turnoff a man pulled over to talk to me. His name was Larry and he was super cool. He was kind of a hippy, he wore a Cannabis Inhalers Association shirt (CIA) and told me about how he had just buried his mom. He seemed sad but genuinely wanted to spend a moment with me. We said our good-byes. About 30 minutes later he came back and handed me an envelope. Inside was a handwritten invitation to crash at his house in the same town that the campground was already booked. Also inside the envelope was $100. The note said that, if I was already booked for the night, the $100 was to help pay for it. Since I couldn’t get a refund I decided to continue to the campground. On the way I saw a sign that said Muskogee, OK was 54 miles away. I had a friend back in culinary school named Grady Perryman and he was from Muskogee and I believed I had heard that he’d returned there. I quickly jumped on Facebook and found him and sent him a message. He quickly replied that he was living in Tulsa and was going to drive down the next day to see me.

I arrived at the Marval Resort Campground and RV Park and was floored at how massive this place was! There must have been well over 50 RVs, 20-30 cabins and about a dozen tent sites. There was miniature golf, an outdoor movie theatre, basketball courts, kayaking, rafting, rental go carts, laundry facilities, showers and on and on. It was pretty incredible! While checking in, the manager, Bill, came up to me and asked me about my cart and my walk. After hearing about our journey he decided to put me up in a cabin for 2 nights for free! I couldn’t believe it. This cabin was like a small studio apartment with a kitchen, full bath, TV, a fireplace and a screened in patio. It was awesome!! Not a bad place to bog down for a few days. Wink and I walked to the river, all around the property and just really enjoyed the grounds.

Grady came the next afternoon and we just hung out on the patio, talked about what we were both doing in life, tried to figure out where some of our old classmates were, etc. It was really great seeing him again and I hope we stay in touch.

I made it to Warner, OK on Mother’s Day. The walk that day was really fantastic because I had perfect weather and zero traffic. I crossed the Arkansas river, again, and I think that will be my final crossing. I decided to book a room at the Ambassadors Inn and RV park. I was planning on camping but I wasn’t feeling well. I was feeling exactly like I did a month ago when I ended up sick for 6 days. My throat was swollen and I felt feverish and ached all over. Crap!!!! The owners of the Ambassadors Inn are truly incredible people. This family bought this run down little roadside motel and poured their heart and soul into it. I met the husband, Kelly, at the office and we hit it off instantly. We talked forever and he offered me a free room for the night. He asked if I needed anything at all, offered to go get me something at the store, invited me to their bible study and just went so far out of his way to make sure that Wink and I were happy and comfortable.

The next morning I woke up really sick. This was yesterday, btw. I had a high fever that would go up and down so I was sweating all day and miserable. I could barely swallow because my throat was so swollen in the back. I asked to stay another night and then Kelly offered me his truck so I could drive into town and get some proper food and stuff I needed. I’m a complete stranger and this man let me take his truck into town! I was so happy to buy a bunch of berries and bananas and apples and a salad and good, tasty food. The minute I got back to my room I ate a Honeycrisp apple and it was the best apple I’d ever had. I realized how much I’m missing fresh fruit and veggies. I’m pretty certain that the reason I’m sick a second time is stress on my body and a “walking on highways through small towns with no real food” diet.

Today is day 3 at this motel. I broke the fever overnight but I have zero energy and my throat is still messy. I’m going to stay one more day and get back at it tomorrow. I’m meeting Lindsay Monroe, former USA Crosser and good friend, on the 19th in Prague, OK and she’s going to walk with me to Oklahoma City!!! I’m so stoked! I’m so happy that we get to finally meet in person and walk together. If you’ve been reading my blog then you know how important she has been to my success.

Sitting in this room for a few days feeling like crap has made me think a lot about this journey, where I am and what I have left. I’m missing home a lot. Not my home, but my life back home and my friends and my bed and good food and clean clothes and good wine with dinner and on and on and on. I’ve gotten used to living out of a stroller, though. It’s amazing that I can live a life for several months out of that thing. When you’re stripped down to bare necessities you figure out pretty quickly how to survive without all the other stuff. Not that I’m going minimalist when I get home but I’m pretty certain that what I used to value and stuff I feel like I need is going to change. I think a lot about my future and how this journey will help shape that. I’ve been able to unpack a lot of crap in my head over the past 1200 miles and sort it out and find some clarity in a few things that have been bothering me about myself, decisions I’ve made or not made and how I want this clarity to help shape some new values. I’m learning to ask for help and accept it. I’ve become far less judgmental of people that, before this walk, I may have judged based on their beliefs or ideology. I’m learning to tolerate different opinions even if I don’t now, and know I never will, agree with. People, for the most part, have such warm hearts and they are compassionate and they genuinely do want to help strangers. I’m not saying ALL people are that way but most of the ones I encounter, which are in the hundreds, have been. Let me tell you a story about a time where I felt so conflicted in this regard. Way back in South Carolina I was walking along a highway that had big farmhouses all around me. This was a nice area and the houses were big and grand. I approached a fence line for a massive farmhouse that was probably a quarter mile ahead of me. On that fence line on nearly every other fence post was a confederate flag. As I walked, and in my mind, I was judging the person who lived in that house. I have my own feelings about that flag and that hasn’t changed. By the time I got to the driveway I had made up my mind that the house was owned by some racist, ignorant family that I wouldn’t want anything to do with. As I approached the driveway a little old lady was walking down with a bag in her hand. She met me at the road and told me that her girlfriend had seen me a few miles back and had visited my website and called ahead to her friend to be on the lookout for me. So, this was her friend, standing there with a huge smile on her face and a bag full of PBJ sandwiches, bottles of water and some cookies. She was really sweet and we talked for a bit and I went on my way. As I was sitting down later, eating the sandwiches, I felt so conflicted about her, about how I had thought of her before we met and about her rights and desire to wave not only 1 of those flags but at least a dozen so proudly. My opinion of the symbolism of that flag didn’t change but how I perceive those who do display them wavered a bit. She had every right to wave that flag and I really had no right to judge her for it. I didn’t have to like it but, after meeting several people that do wave it, I’ve learned that not all of them are sending a message of hate or racism, rather, they’re deeply rooted in their family culture of southern pride. I’ve also learned from a few very well educated, well spoken and very lovely southerners that there is still a strong shame in losing the Civil War and that’s why they do so many re-enactments down here. I have no idea if that’s true or not but it is a perspective I’ve never heard nor thought about.

I guess where I’m going with all of this is that I appreciate myself so much more for opening up to hearing other ideologies despite my solid foundation in my own. I even went to church service a few weeks ago when the pastor allowed me to camp behind his church and invited me in for the Sunday evening message. I really enjoyed my time with his congregation despite my feelings about religion. I was able to witness three children get baptized and see the love and joy and tears in their parent’s eyes. I sang along with the hymns because it felt good to be in the community with those strangers. I never felt uncomfortable, rather, I felt incredibly welcomed by all of them. It did not change my beliefs but it did allow me to open my heart a little more to those that do believe and I’m happy that I spent some time with them in church.

People are people. We’re all humans out here trying to survive and feel good about our lives, our families, our jobs and it doesn’t really matter to most what you believe as long as you are a compassionate, friendly, non-judgmental person. I’ve found that, by demonstrating these qualities, I’ve met and enjoyed people that I would not have otherwise and that’s a pretty damned good way to live. Barely watching the news in more than 3 months has helped as well. I can honestly say that we are not as divided as we are led to believe. We may all have different ideologies but I have yet to encounter a single person through this conservative Bible Belt that has asked me one political question and only a few that have asked me my feelings about God and, those that did, were never pushy about it. They were just interested.

I’m entering a new phase on this journey. I’m headed out of deep trees, woods, cold and weird thunderstorm patterns and into the barren flatlands very soon. Although we’ve already experienced many tornado warnings and have luckily not been in the middle of any, we are entering tornado season in the Southern Plaines and heading into tornado alley which includes Oklahoma and Texas. We will be vigilant and pay close attention to my NOAA app on my phone for the next month and a half during this period of time. I’ll be picking up Route 66 in Oklahoma City in just about a week and a half which will take me all the way to California. It’s going to be challenging in new ways. It’s going to become harder and harder to find resources and it’s going to continue to get hotter and hotter outside and on the road. I fear the upcoming desert and summer heat it will bring but I am determined to figure it out. At this rate I will be home around the beginning of September so about 3 1/2 – 4 more months.

Love to all. More later.

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