April 11 – April 17
After our delicious lunch at White Trolley Cafe in Corinth, MS, we continued west on Hwy 72 towards a nothing little town called Walnut. We have been battling on again, off again rain, sudden thunderstorm and tornado warnings and, not being a really enthusiastic outdoorsy type guy, I struggle a lot when this happens. It’s all good, it’s just a real eye opener to where my comfort and fear boundaries lie and how far I can push them.
This day was a 21 mile journey and the weather stayed in my favor. We started the day crossing our 800 mile mark! It was really early so I didn’t do a FB Live but we did take a video and post it. To understand the terrain of where I was walking and probably the reason for some of my uncertainty, let me explain Hwy 72 on all sides. The highway itself is 4 lanes which is great for walking. The shoulders, all the way through Mississippi are about 10” wide and then they turn into a fairly well packed bed of rocks that are orange/brown in color and about 1” to 4” in size. It makes for very difficult walking because the ground is quite uneven and, with all the rain this area has experienced, there are pits, holes and deep gouges in the earth where cars or trucks have pulled over. The small area of the asphalt shoulder has those indents to keep people from drifting off the road and those aren’t easy to walk on either. So, although I loved all the people I met in Mississippi, I really struggled walking Hwy 72 which was my home all the way through the state. Now, on either side of the highway the scenery is beautiful with large fields of yellow flowers and these little purple red flowers line the highway as well. But the fields on the sides of the highway are private property and the rocks I walk on either dip deep into a grassy gorge before they reach the fields or the opposite where there’s a steep hill to my left before the fields. My point is that there is zero chance of finding a place to camp along this highway.
Luckily, in Walnut, I discovered a little roadside motel to crash for the night. Wow. I’ve stayed at some pretty interesting places but the Value Inn wins the award for the sketchiest so far. Let me start by saying that Michelle, the woman who managed the place, was so nice. I think she lived in the motel and she was also the cleaning lady. She was so sweet to Wink and gave us some info on where to get some food. The Value Inn has been there forever I think. If I was in a big city I would have been worried about the people that hang out around places like this but this motel really was in a very small highway town and I felt comfortable that it was just old and worn out and not really that sketchy in a scary kinda way. The room smelled heavily of cleaning chemicals and not old smoke and sweat like I expected. And, you know what? It was a bed and a shower and 8 hours of my life. No big deal at all. Although I don’t always stay in places like this, I’ve grown to like them a little bit. I don’t always need the comforts of nicer places anymore but I do like them. But if I’m checking in, falling asleep, waking up and leaving I really don’t mind the budget places anymore. If I have to stay a few days due to weather I’ll pay a bit more for a better place but, in this instance, the Value Inn was the perfect place for me to be. It’s quite humbling to give up comforts sometimes and just be. And I got to meet Michelle and she was a doll. OH, and there was a BBQ truck out front and we had some really good pulled pork sandwiches for dinner.
April 12 – The next day was a huge turning point for the week to come. We left in a drizzle that morning and we had a few days before we would get to the eastern edge of Memphis. Our next ability to get some shelter was 3 days away in Collierville which is a suburb of Memphis. So a few days of stealth camping. I was a bit stressed because weather warnings were screaming thunderstorms starting later that night so we had to get moving and find some safe space to camp. We walked just under 20 miles to the Harris Chapel Methodist Church. This cute little church was on the opposite side of the highway and there was nothing around it. There were no houses, businesses or, really, anything at all. The nearest service station was another 3 miles. We were in the middle of nowhere. We rolled around to the back of the church and there was a nice, seemingly flat spot right up next to the building. It had started raining but not too hard. We had a good chunk of time to get set up, eat some boil in a bag lasagna and make some calls. I chose the spot up against the building because we were now starting to hear thunder and see lightning off in the distance. On both sides of us were two large magnolia trees so I felt pretty well protected from the elements. I strapped Alexa to an air conditioning unit and covered her up with my tarp. OK, all set. By the time we were inside the tent for the night the rain was coming down hard. Real hard. But all seemed well so I started to watch some shows I had downloaded. About the time the sun went down my phone started chirping with new weather alerts for thunderstorms (duh) and, yes, tornadoes. I wasn’t too stressed about that night because I really did feel protected from all that crud except the rain and the tornado warning was to begin the next day. By the time we actually started to fall asleep, my plan for the night failed. Water started leaking into the tent and we started getting pretty wet. I adjusted as much as possible but it was pitch black outside, it was pouring down rain and my tent was really well anchored. I decided to just get back in and sleep through the wet. Thunder pounded all night and we didn’t get much sleep. I had been communicating with a guy named Jerry who lived west of Memphis who was going to host us when we got there. After the tornado warnings for the following few days, he offered to come out and pick us up in the morning.
April 13 – When we got up the next day I realized my mistakes. Up against the building seemed like a good idea but the pitch of the roof above my tent allowed the rain to run down directly on top of and behind me creating a little lake below the tent. OK, so that’s why we took on so much water!! The tent didn’t fail, the set up did. Lesson 1 learned. Alexa and all of her contents were also drenched. My tarp had blown to the side in the wind and the rain cover had blown off with it so all of my clothes, food, gear, etc. was soaking.
I was not in a good space in my head after that night. I shared all of this on FB and don’t need to rehash again because, now, 6 days later, it was sooooo long ago and I learned a ton that night! I learned to consider more things when I set up my tent. I learned that the wind is stronger than my attempt to cover my cart. I learned that I need to check the ground under my tent better for water drainage if I am going to be in the rain. So many things I learned from that night. But, most important, that night solidified my desire to persevere, make changes, accept help, not beat myself up if I have to call in the cavalry and, it was such a humbling experience, I felt more comfortable to publicly share some pretty personal stuff about my feelings when normally I would not do that.
Jerry arrived later that morning. He lived 104 miles away and very much out of the path I was planning on taking. Originally I was going to walk far south of him and he was going to do the pick up/drop off thing but the weather changed my route again. Wink and I sat on the steps of the church while we waited for Jerry and it was a good few hours to sit in my head.
When we got to Jerry’s house, Wink was thrilled to meet Sam and Bandit, Jerry’s two dogs. Jerry lived in a nice house on a small lake outside a town called Wynne, AR. So, on that drive back to his house, we crossed into Tennessee through Memphis then over the bridge into Arkansas. It was depressing that I wasn’t walking it but I knew I would be able to back up and get it done. Jerry was awesome. He let me take Alexa completely apart and hang everything to dry out in his garage. We drank beers, had some pizza and caught up on life. Jerry is a teacher and I really enjoyed hearing about his students and his movement in life that got him to his home. He’s also an avid outdoorsman and had a lot of guidance on the surrounding areas and gear, etc.
April 14 – The next day there was a break in the weather so we drove all the way back to Mississippi so I could walk the state line into Tennessee and we made our way back up through Memphis so I could continue the walk over the Mississippi River into Arkansas. I didn’t make up all the miles he brought me forward yet but I will. These silly rules we make for ourselves!! That night I made dinner for Jerry to thank him for all of his help and we ended the night with some Makers on the rocks. Bed time!!
April 15 – When many Americans were stressing to cut checks to the IRS, Wink and I walked. The weather for the next few days was supposed to be perfect and that certainly held true. Jerry offered to allow me to walk as far as possible and stay at his house again so we walked without Alexa. There was another storm coming in by Wed/Thurs and we wanted to get to Searcy before it hit. Searcy was about 57 miles away and that’s a long two days of walking. Since we weren’t walking with Alexa I decided that we would try to do 32 miles that day. We were doing an out and back so basically 16 miles out then turning around and doing 16 back to the house. The next day the plan was for Jerry to take me 32 miles out or however many miles I actually walked. So we made it to a small market and flipped a u-turn to head back. It was a beautiful day out and the temperature was perfect. To the market we walked on the highway. On the way back I took a different route through a maze of county roads for a different scene. That turned out to be a bit of a mistake but not one I could foresee. Several of the county roads were dirt/gravel which was actually fine but I came across an entire area that was flooded out. It was impassable. This closure required us to back track and go around the flooded area which added almost 4 miles to our original plan. UGH!!! I almost laughed at myself. It turned out to be a 35.8 mile day but we made it back to the house! We ate, drank a beer and crashed at 7:30.
April 16 – Up super early. Jerry was going to drive us out to a town called Augusta to start where our mileage left off. I felt pretty good except for a few small blisters I picked up the day before. The excessive mileage from the day before was going to benefit us today. We only had 21 miles to Searcy and that was totally doable!! And we were starting so early that we could go slow and check things out. We were staying at a hotel and couldn’t check in till 3 anyway. We ate at a cute little cafe in Bald Knob and I decided to stop and get a hair cut at this little road side barber shop. About 100 feet before the shop Wink started to limp. My heart broke instantly. We stopped and I checked his paws and couldn’t see anything wrong with them. Being super concerned I stopped and took Alexa apart to attempt to get Wink inside. He’s so big!! It was tough getting him and all my gear back inside but I did it and he got a ride to the barber. When we got there he jumped out, layed down and crashed. The girls inside were so sweet and they did my hair for free! While we were in there a few other customers joined our conversation and talking about the walk was fun and everyone was really interested in all the details. One of the gentlemen, Leon, offered to drive me and Wink the last mile into town if I thought it would be better for him. When I was done I took Wink out to see how he was doing and he was limping and whimpering quite a bit. Deal. I’ll take the ride! Luckily there was a vet next door to our hotel. After a very thorough exam, the doctor determined that Wink was having some pretty significant shoulder pain and that there was some inflammation. He said he’d be fine but needed some rest. He asked about our few days prior and I told him about our 35 mile day and the rocky/gravel road we were on and he was pretty sure Wink strained it the day before and it just got worse today. So he gave me some meds and ordered a few days rest for Wink. The timing was pretty good because the storm is coming in tonight. We were probably going to be holed up anyway, now I just have an excuse to accept it and not push through a storm to the next town. When we got to our hotel the woman behind the desk said that a man dropped something off for me. I don’t know who it was but this person knew we were going to the vet and staying at that hotel so it was either Leon, who drove us to the vet, or one of the men that were at the barber shop. No name but, left for me behind the counter, was a $25 gift card to Chili’s across the street! So incredibly nice. I wish I knew who it was and how to thank them. Maybe they will read this and know how thankful I am. Someone went completely out of their way to make a complete stranger smile and that’s pretty incredible. Thank you, sir.
April 17 – Today we are sitting in a hotel and we’re going to chill out. Not much to do and I don’t want to push Wink but we will walk to the pet store across the street. We have to change hotels today but the new place is only a block away. I’m going to let Wink get as much rest as possible, I’m going to let my blisters heal, I’m going to watch the rain come down and ready myself to walk hopefully Friday. What I’m not going to be doing is drinking any alcohol because I’m in a dry county!!! What??? There are two colleges here and there is no alcohol?? So weird to me. The liquor laws in the south are so foreign to this California boy.
I want to end this post by thanking Jerry again. This guy went so far out of his way so many times over the past few days and, every time I needed to ask for anything, he would say, “No problem at all. Glad to be a part of your journey and have stories to tell my students”. Another road angel on my journey. Thank you Jerry!!