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  • Thomas Curran

Florence, AL to Corinth, MS and the world’s only Apron Museum

April 1 – April 10

This is a very long post…do what you want with it!!

Ten days have passed since my last post yet I’ve only traveled 53 miles by foot. Last thing I wrote was that I was leaving Florence, AL and taking a few days off to meet a friend in Memphis and that was on April 1. So, what the heck have I been doing for 10 days?

Did I get lost? No.

But before I get started I realized, after reading many of my older posts, that I don’t talk about the charity I’m walking for enough on this blog. I just don’t want to lose sight of the importance of events like my journey to the fundraising process for charities and the work that the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation does for kids battling cancer. We’ve raised over $7,000 so far which is awesome!! Our goal is to hit $20,000 by the end of my journey and it’s the support of my friends, followers and family that read my posts that WILL make this happen!! Thank you for your ongoing contributions, donations and emotional support. I could not be where I am without you!

OK! Let’s talk about the last 10 days.

March 30 – I had an awesome break in Memphis! I met my friend Courtney and we had a cool little house on Mud Island for 2 nights and we stayed a night at the Peabody Hotel. We had some pretty great food while we were there. We had breakfast at this place called The Beauty Shop in a real cool area called Cooper Street. Beauty Shop used to be exactly that and all of the original decor and sit down hair dryers and glass brick walls were all still intact but they now serve seriously amazing food. We had BBQ on Beale Street and drinks, well, pretty much everywhere we had drinks, day and night, but we were both on break so that’s ok, right? We also drove over the bridge that I’ll be walking over next week that will take me from Tennessee into Arkansas. We did that because Courtney had never been to Arkansas and she wanted to say that she’d been there. Over, turn around, over a different bridge and back into Memphis. Check it off your list Courtney!

We also visited Graceland and that was really cool. What a crazy house Elvis lived in! It felt very small but there were portions we weren’t allowed to visit. The colors, fabrics, decor and styling were just crazy! Later that night while sitting around the hotel we decided to have some fun with my beard and hair with little colored rubber bands. It was silly but a good time.

I dropped Courtney at the airport on Tuesday April, 2 super early and headed 2 hours back to Florence in my horribly blue rental Jeep so I could start back on the road.

By 9 am Wink and I were walking again in Florence, AL. So, if you’re following the geography, we went from Alabama into and all the way across Mississippi up quickly into Tennessee, over a bridge to Arkansas, back into Tennessee and back through Mississippi to Alabama all in a few days to take a break from traveling by foot. And the entire route we drove I will be walking again and it will take me almost two weeks to do it.

OK, back to work.

We left Florence at 9 am on the 2nd and felt great! We were headed to the Natchez Trace Pkwy which is a very long, 600 mile or so drive from somewhere deep in Tennessee to somewhere deep in Mississippi. We had to meander though the outskirts of Florence to get there and, instead of staying on the straightaway, which I had already driven and was familiar with during my trek to Memphis a few days earlier, I took side streets to save a mile and it bit me in the butt! I hit my second road closure of my walk pretty deep into an area that didn’t have any other options for a quick detour. I turned left where Google told me to and my road was blocked with a big iron gate across it and a big stop sign and two big road closed signs. As I’m writing this I realize that the whole set up, if you step back and look at it and let your mind get creative, kinda looked like a face where the gate was a menacing straight mouth with two big orange signs as eyes daring me to pass. Hm. I did a quick check on Google maps to find a new route but it was a 4-5 mile detour. No way in hell I was adding that much mileage to my day. I was still a little bit hungover from last night 2 states away and a big detour just wasn’t ok with me on that particular day. So I waved down a car (which isn’t always easy to do on a back road, or any road for that matter, wearing a yellow safety vest pushing a cart with a dog strapped to your waist) and the brave lady who actually stopped said that the road had been closed for over a year because a bridge about a mile past the closure had washed out in a flood. I asked her if the bridge was actually still there or was it gone completely and she wasn’t sure. So I called my buddy Kevin. He’s a pretty resourceful guy and he said he thinks that the bridge was still there but very precarious and definitely not ok for cars to drive on it but perhaps safe enough to walk across. Well, that was enough for me! I’m goin through! Except there was no way around this barrier and Alexa weighs 100+ pounds so I had to take her apart, heave her over the barrier, re-assemble her and get going without being seen. All good. Mission accomplished.

The closed road was quite beautiful and it was certainly nice to be alone! I could tell it had been closed a long time, though. There were fallen tree branches everywhere and parts of the road were broken up from whatever flood had passed through. We made it to the bridge and saw that the Alabama Department of Transportation took extra effort to make sure a car didn’t cross it by laying a giant fallen tree directly across the front of it. Dammit! OK, I get their point though. If some brave soul in a car somehow got past the barrier and tried to cross this bridge they were definitely going to end up in the creek. This bridge was not ok to drive on for sure. Now, this wasn’t the Tennessee river I was about to cross and, if the bridge did fail, I certainly would not fall to my death but I would be really wet and it would have delayed my day by many, many hours getting out of this creek. It would certainly ruin your car so I understand the giant log barrier. So I did the Alexa break down, heave over, re-assemble thing again, crossed the bridge and we were on our way. Luckily, when I got to the road closure barrier at the other end there was a gap in the side by the woods that I was able to squeeze Alexa through so we didn’t have to do that again! All in all it was actually quite fun to go on that little adventure. I kinda like doing something wrong that I know won’t end me up in jail. I felt so Rambo or, at least, Jack Reacher out there.

OK, back on track and here’s why I was so excited about that day. Remember, I had just driven this part to and from Memphis and was super excited to walk it. “The Trace” as the locals call it is a two lane road with no shoulders. Normally I would hate this and look for another route because this kind of walking sucks and is dangerous. But not on The Trace. Despite what would seem like a great driving route to take from there to there (I’m currently in the middle of this area so I’m pointing up then down when I say that), there’s barely any traffic!! AND, the best part is that no commercial vehicles are allowed on The Trace!! No trucks of any kind. The biggest vehicle I encountered was a very typical southern big Ford F-whatever with a boat behind it. Another huge bonus to walking The Trace is that there are no buildings, no homes, no fences – nothing on the sides of the roads for about 1/4 mile. The homes you do see way out there are accessed from other roads elsewhere. This is basically a beautiful, well maintained, relatively flat scenic route through slightly rolling hills of crops, forest, lakes, creeks and then BAM The Tennessee River again.

I loved walking this day, even with the bridge fiasco, and I was actually excited to stealth camp that night on The Trace. We got to the northern side of the Tennessee River around 3 pm and sat at a small park and enjoyed the scenery. The river is huge! This was the second time I was going to cross it, the first time being when I entered Florence from Muscle Shoals a few days earlier. But that was on a huge, busy bridge in the city. This time I was crossing it on The Trace and I was all alone. The bridge across was a little over a mile and it had a wide shoulder with just a slight arch up and over the middle where boats could pass underneath. The water was so still. It was more like a lake than a river because you really couldn’t see movement on the water. The sun was starting to come down and it was really quite beautiful and very peaceful. We made our way slowly over the river and started to look for our camp site. Within minutes I found a very suitable place to set up camp and I made a delicious lasagna packet for dinner and settled into an early night of Netflix downloads.

And that’s when the animal sounds started. Holy moly. There were coyotes everywhere. Those are the only sounds identifiable by my city boy ears. The other sounds were wild and scary and fascinating and scary and I grabbed my phone and google searched “dangerous animals near me” and that didn’t help so I google searched “how to defend yourself from dangerous animals near me” and that didn’t help so I braved leaving my not so safe tent in the dark to fetch my protection from my cart. This included my walking stick and air horn and hunting knife. I remembered in that moment, at just the wrong time, that I had lost my bear spray and hadn’t replaced my pepper spray that exploded back on that other bridge several weeks earlier. Needless to say we didn’t sleep super well that night. Silly, really, we were just camping. I knew there were no bears and I knew that coyotes wouldn’t attack my tent with Wink going berserk inside of it. We survived! Unscathed! The next morning, while I was drinking my coffee, I google searched “most dangerous wildlife in North Alabama”. The four most dangerous animals that could have killed me last night were fire ants, scorpions, one particular spider and one particular snake. I’m quite certain that none of the sounds I heard last night were any of those four creatures. I definitely was not listening for fire ants. But I had known about them and Wink and I did experience them a few days earlier but their pretty easy to spot and I did avoid them.

The next day we were headed to Iuka, MS which meant another state line crossing!! Since we started early we hit our mark at the Mississippi state line fairly early in the day and only had 6 or so miles to go to Iuka. Our plan was to crash inside the firehouse that my friend Lindsay had lined up for me. During my FB Live post at our state line crossing my Mom learned of the town we were staying in that night and she likes to do research and give me tidbits of info about where I’m going. When I was a few miles from town she sent me a text that said “Iuka is home to the only Apron Museum. I wanna see that. I love aprons, especially vintage. Jealous” followed up quickly with “Great pics on website for that museum” then “They have a symposium in June! Who knew?” and, finally, “I just talked to Carolyn at Apron Museum. She has a guest house free for you. Call her if you want it”. My mom is like my own personal Google travel agent!

I rolled into town and, of course, straight to the Apron Museum. The town is small so, no matter where I was headed, I would have passed it. Carolyn was out front and we started chatting and her husband Henry came out to say hello. Before we got too deep into conversation I asked if there was a place close by to get some food. I wasn’t feeling quite right and thought maybe it was because it was a little warmer that day and I’d been eating power bars and trail mix all day and was probably pretty hungry. I walked around the corner to a little cafe and woofed down a burger and Wink had a few hamburger patties. Hunger quenched I made it back to the museum. Carolyn and Henry did offer their AirBnb which was about 4 miles out of town and they let me leave my cart inside the museum so I didn’t have to lug it up there. We all hopped in their truck and headed “home”. They lived in a separate house on the property which was huge – 60 acres – quiet and a perfect, peaceful place to rest my head for a night. That one night turned into six. Whatever I was feeling earlier turned into a fever then chills and aches and congestion and sneezing and coughing and my arm fell off and my ears ached and then my eyeballs caught on fire. What I’m trying to say is that I was a mess. You can decide which two of the symptoms mentioned above didn’t actually happen. Luckily the place was available the next night but for Friday I had to pack up and move to the WORST motel so far on this journey. OK, I know I’ve said that before in another post but this one was THE worst because it was disgusting and I was super sick. As you can see in the picture the Victorian Inn offered the finest single rooms. I guess if it means in Iuka and compared to the only other motel in town which I have been told is not really a motel but rather a place to buy drugs and other stuff I wasn’t looking for then, yes, The Victorian Inn had the finest single rooms. After seeing the pool I was a little bummed that I forgot my suit. I just went in and fell asleep and only awoke to take Wink out for his business. Not that it would have mattered much if I just let him do it in the room but that would do too much damage to all the training I’ve given him. It would not have hurt the carpet.

The next morning Henry came and picked me up, took me to a grocery store for food and stuff I needed for another day. My plan was day to day at that point and, luckily for me, the house was available for several days ahead. I spent Saturday and Sunday sleeping, sweating, getting and breaking fevers, washing sheets, eating soup and writing my obituary. I actually contemplated the irrational thought that I might never get better. Sunday late my fever broke for the last time and my cough started to go away. Monday I awoke and felt pretty good but tired and decided that I was leaving the next day. Carolyn, Henry and I went out for Mexican food (I was soooo hungry for a real meal). On the way home we stopped to take pics of the local cemetery sign only because the name of the burial place was Toenail Cemetary. Hm. Definitely needs some research into the history of that name but no time right now.

Tuesday April 9, I left Iuka and headed west once again. Today we walked an easy 13 miles to Glen, MS where we stayed inside the Glen Volunteer Fire Dept. It was pretty cool because nobody was there and they let me crash on the sofa inside the fire house. So I decided to put on some Fireman garb and take some shots!

Today we left the firehouse and had a short 10 mile day to Corinth. It was not a good walking day in that the road had zero shoulders and I pretty much had to dodge cars all day long. Luckily it wasn’t that long of a day for it. I’m feeling pretty good and these shorter days are a good thing for now. For several days I’ve been told that I had to stop at White Trolley Cafe in Corinth and order a Slugburger. I got there and actually ordered 2 because they were only .99 and took them outside to film a little video. Slug burgers do not have slugs in them. They were originally made back during the war when they would take pork, beef and soybean and then pan fry them. They’re served with mustard, pickles and onions and they were actually pretty damn good!! So, slugburger off my to-do list. We made it to our hotel and getting to bed for the night. We’re heading into several days of no towns, no help and no campgrounds which means lots of stealth camping between here and Memphis.

What an amazing set of small, individually insignificant happenings that, collectively, saved my butt for a week. I did an FB Live as I’m entering Iuka which prompted my mom to google search things to do in Iuka and noticing that there’s an apron store that says on their website to call for hours of operation so she does and gets Carolyn on the phone which leads to a conversation about me and my journey and I meet Carolyn at the moment that I start feeling like crap and she has an AirBnb that’s not rented. It’s quite remarkable. It made me think back about all the people who’ve entered my life in the past year specific to this journey, how important they’ve all been to my success thus far and some of them who saved my butt when it needed saving.

The rest of this post is about those people.

Let’s start with other trans-con walkers who helped get me here:

Tyler Coulson – Let’s go back more than a year to Tyler Coulson. Professionally, I was in a pretty rough place a year ago. As much as I loved my restaurant and allowed it to define me, it was not working. My partnership was struggling and Taco Brat had lost it’s shine in my heart because it was causing me so much stress and anxiety. This was about the time that I read Tyler’s book By Men or By The Earth. This book changed my life. I’ve told Tyler this before. I don’t know that he set out to change people’s lives and maybe I’m the only one but his book triggered a nerve which set this whole thing in motion.

USA Crossers – I can’t remember who introduced me to the USA Crossers page on FB but it was a game changer. This page has pretty much all the current and former trans-con walkers and runners and it’s just an amazing, non-competitive community of people all out to help each other finish their journeys.

Eric Keeler – I met Eric on USA Crossers. He was completing his trans-con run in San Diego and stayed at my house for a few nights. He helped me with a lot of my planning and gear and has become a good friend. I was honored to be at the beach when he finished his run.

Chris West, Tom Griffen, Brett Bramble – these are all crossers who continue to help me on my journey. Chris walked my first day with me, Tom gave me lots of advice on North Carolina and Brett has helped me in so many ways I can’t list them all. Getting through the Atlanta area without Brett’s help would have been rough.

Jonathon Stalls – another crosser from Colorado with such a calming presence when we talk that he helps set my mind at ease when I’m anxious or having a rough time. He’s a truly wonderfully spiritual man with a heart of gold.

Kait Seyal has been with me since I read about her in Tyler’s book. I was supposed to stay with Kait and her husband, John, with whom she walked the US several years ago with their dogs. Kait helped me in the beginning with my emotional processing of what I was about to do. She was tactical as well but we talked a lot about some pretty personal stuff. I will meet them someday!!

Lindsay Monroe – I know for a fact that my journey would have ended on day 7 if it weren’t for Lindsay. She is my MVP. I had spent months planning my former route and, on day 5, it was in the trash and I had to re-route through the south. Lindsay has been with me every day and has connected me with people and helped me with road decisions and has just been a real ass kicker when I need it most. I hope to see her in Oklahoma – she says she’s gonna walk with me when I get there. Love ya Lindsay!!

Jessie Grieb, Pete Miljevic, Steve LeSage, Dr. Terrie Wurzbacher – all crossers who are on the road right now. We all stay in touch and cheer each other on. This is the class of 2019 and I love em all. Road warriors!!

Now I want to focus on my “road angels”. These are people who, for the most part, were complete strangers before I met them on this journey. They entered my life by chance and a few of them really saved my ass when it needed saving. They are in the order that I met them on my journey.

Josh Holden, Lesley Holden Williams and the entire Holden Clan! – Josh’s family pretty much owns Holden Beach, NC, where I started my journey. I say that half joking, of course. Their family history is deep there. Josh let me, Holden and Wink stay at his home for 2 nights prior to the start of the journey. He had his whole family over for dinner and it was an amazing send off. At the family gathering I met his sister Leslie who introduced me to the Wheatley family whom I will talk about below. Thank you Josh and Lesley and the entire Holden family!!

The Morgan Family – Lisa, Richard, Jessie – I met them trough Jessie Grieb who stayed with this family on their farm during her walk. I was only planning on 1 night there but it turned into 8 days after my heel problem on day 5. Don’t need to go into that detail, it’s in a previous post, but the Morgan’s let me stay on their property for as long as I needed to heal. We had some pretty deep conversations about life and decisions and regrets and we ate good food and drank a lot of Bud Lite.

The Wheatleys – Mary, Brent, Price and Emma Gray took me into their home in Whiteville, NC and this is where my entire journey changed. I was only planning on 1 night but they offered to have me put in my miles the next day and come pick me up and take me back so I could stay at their place 2 nights. Well, that next day was day 5 of my walk when my heel problems really kicked in. Mary had to come out to pick me up off the side of the highway and she got me home safely and got me some good medical advice from family members. They were so friendly and generous with their time and home.

Dr. Kibler – Doc saw me at 4 pm on a Friday on his birthday. He spent a lot of time with me and took some x-rays and really helped narrow down my heel problems. He did some laser therapy, advised that I get new shoes and did some research, discussed stretching and, more importantly, told me to re-route. No mountains. No Appalachians or Rockies. The Achilles may not make it over them. Go South young man!! Doc didn’t even charge me and he has continued to check in. Great guy and great office staff!!

Amber and Jessie were my first couch surfing friends. I was planning on camping but it was gonna be raining so I decided to try the app and it worked! They were awesome hosts!

Kimberly Hynes is the PM manager at the Hyatt in Sumter. She was really great with me and Wink and, as my journey has progressed, she’s helped me get rooms at other Hyatts when they weren’t available or too expensive. She’s been super helpful!

Melissa Byrd – Melissa was my host in Columbia, SC. She drove all the way out to save me from a miserable night under a bridge in a construction zone outside of town. She took me shopping, made dinner and gave Wink a jacket and rain coat and another bowl because I lost one. She went way out of her way for me!!

The Wall Family – Philip, Joli, Sarah Grace, Emily and Caroline – Such a lovely family to stay with for a night in Lexington, SC. Philip made a shrimp, sausage, corn, potato boil and Sarah Grace played the ukulele and sang a song for me. Emily was a bundle of energy and so much fun to be around. Joli made me feel incredibly welcome. Sarah Grace even made her own donation to the PCRF from her piggy bank. So sweet.

The Hansons – Tammy and Joel had me on their farm for a few days while I healed a bit from shin splints or something like that. I needed a few days off as walking was proving to be a bit painful at the time. They had lots of animals for Wink to play with and their farm was fenced in so he could run wild. We had some fun hooking one of their mini horses up to the cart and letting it pull me.

Jenn and Terry Krauss took me in for 3 days in Aiken. I was still dealing with some shin pain so they let me chill a bit and get that fixed. While in Aiken I also met Pamela Ely, Jenn’s business partner and founder of Woods Farm Market. Pamela is great and she gave me some “secret” cream that, in combination with compression socks, took the shin pain away!! We had a really nice stay in Aiken and owe that to the Krauss family and Pamela. XXOO I really loved Aiken and Jenn, Terry and Pamela along with the Hansons a few days earlier made it even better.

Mark and Mindy – VFW Post 6445 Harlem, GA – Mark whistled me over from the road and invited me in for food and a beer. I thought it was his house but it was a Veterans of Foreign Wars post and it was awesome. A few dozen vets and family members, fried fish, hush puppies and lots of beer and a place to pitch my tent by a lake for the night. Mindy is his wife and she ran the bar. They also connected me with another VFW a few towns later that hooked me up as well!

Sonja at The Chicken Coop in Crawford, GA – Sonja has a little house/BB and she was so sweet to take me and Wink in after an extremely long walking day in super cold and windy weather. It was going to be in the teens the night we got there and she was the only option for safe housing. She made me dinner and a HUGE breakfast of fried chicken, biscuits, gravy and so much more. She was incredible.

David in Athens – I connected with David via Warm Showers and he let me crash at his house for 2 nights. I wanted a day off in Athens, a super cool college town, and he came through! David had done the entire east coast on bike so he kinda got it.

Amanda Kilgus and her entire family in Snellville, GA – Amanda and her fiancé John have a nice big house, an even bigger family and an even bigger dog. They were awesome hosts. We had killer brisket for dinner and pancakes for breakfast and they let me do some work on my cart that night. Then they came out to meet me because I forgot my spare inner tubes at their house. Thanks!!

Steve and Pat Milby in Marietta, GA took me in for a night and a great history lesson!! Steve is the brother of my friend Nancy Milby back home. Not only did they make me BBQ ribs for dinner and provide me with a neat little self defense mechanism, Steve took me to Kennesaw Mountain Battle Field and showed me some amazing Civil War history. Steve and his buddy Phil walked a few days later with me on the Silver Comet Trail.

Helen and Cesar Tovar, Lolo and Al Mora, Wendy Tovar and family – I’ve known this family for 22 years since Holden was just a few months old. Lolo was his nanny and the whole family now lives just outside of Atlanta. I stayed there three nights due to weather and I loved catching up with them.

Kenny, Carla and Kenny Jr. Stephens in Rockmart – I met this family through a girl named Cara Gurney. Cara was going to host me in Atlanta but our timing was off. The Stephens let me crash on their sofa on their beautiful property, made me an amazing steak dinner and awesome chorizo egg burrito breakfast before walking with me all the way back to the Silver Comet Trail the next day. We had some really good laughs about BeeGeesus…read my earlier post. It’s a good one!

Philip Castillo lives in Huntsville but met me in Guntersville at the North Alabama Sailing Club where he got me a place to pitch my tent by the lake for two nights. Philip helped me SOOOO much with errands, getting me to a doctor appt., getting me groceries, helping me over a bridge I couldn’t pass on foot and showing me tons of sites for a few days. Philip was an awesome friend and great contact.

Wayne at Fisherman’s Paradise – I met Wayne, like many of the people listed above, through Lindsay. Wayne let me pitch my tent for free on his property and he went to the store and bought me a few beers to boot!

Kevin McCarley in Florence, GA – Kevin hooked me up for a few nights at his house, took me out for drinks, introduced me to Chocolate Gravy, helped me with my cart and gave me tons of advice when I needed it most. He really knew the area I was headed into and helped my next few days a ton, including my venture over the flooded bridge. Thanks Kevin! Friends forever buddy!

Chief James, Chuck and Trevin at Glen Volunteer Fire Dept took me in and let me sleep inside their house all alone for a night! Not only was that super nice and trusting of them but also so cool that I got to sleep inside a firehouse! PS – the trucks drive like a dream! They shouldn’t have left the keys in the ignition! Thanks guys!

And I told you all about Carolyn and Henry earlier in this post. This takes us up to date!! I can’t wait to do this list again with all the new cool people I know I’m going to meet.

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© 2020 by Thomas Curran

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