March 24 – March 28
Well it has been a hell of a long but fun week. I left Guntersville on March 24 and have walked about 120 miles in 5 days. Let me break that down because it will help explain the “hell of a week” comment above.
When I left Guntersville my plan was to walk about 22 miles and do some stealth camping. It was a beautiful morning. The weather in Guntersville was barely chilly and the sunrise was incredible down by the water. The next town with services was called Priceville which was 42 miles away so NO WAY was I going to make that in one day. Being it was going to be an 8 hour walk day I decided we could leave around 9 am instead of super early. Well, about an hour into the walk we started getting severe storm warnings which included 10 straight hours of predicted thunderstorms starting at 4 am the next day. Uh uh. Not stealth camping. Stealth camping requires you to get in and get out in the dark and quickly to avoid detection by either cops or people who may want to bother you. I’m barely a novice camper (but I am getting really good at it!!) and, worse, I am a super beginner stealth camper and I don’t like it very much. So it was time to make a decision – turn around and go back to Guntersville and wait out the storm or power through to Priceville 42 miles ahead.
So, Priceville it was. I looked at Wink and said, “Hey, buddy, I’m apologizing up front for what we’re about to do. We’re gonna hit 42 miles today. We’re about 3 in and it’s already 10 am. We’re gonna do some night walking. I love you and understand if you hate me after this.” He just laughed and said, “Ah, you’re a load of crap. We’re not doing that!”. “Oh, yes, we are.” “Oh, man. I better get treats!”
The walk that day took us through rolling farmland where Wink experienced some more animals up close and personal. We went by several cattle ranches and the cows seemed to be extremely interested in the odd set of life walking by them on the road. The hills rolled and changed colors and went on forever. It was really beautiful. Alabama really is a beautiful state to walk through on county roads. Despite the beauty and peaceful pleasure it brought me, I started to fatigue way too early in the day. By mile 15 I was tired and sore. I talked to a lot of people on the phone to kill time and every time someone stopped to say hello was really nice but it was taking up my time. We had to move and move fast. Our ETA to Priceville was after 11 pm at the rate we were going. Not ok. So I shifted gears and actually did a little bit of jogging on the flat lands. Which probably turned out to be a huge mistake that I am still paying for.
Around the 25 mile mark my left quad or hip flexor – not sure which – seized up on me. This has never happened. I never have pain in that area of my body (surprising because I have pretty much hurt everywhere at some point). But it was super intense. I couldn’t push off with my left leg at all. I was in the middle of nowhere with storm clouds overhead and it was late, late afternoon. I had about 3 hours of light left and 6 hours minimum of walking time. That’s about when I began changing my gait to remove pressure from pushing off on the left and that just made other areas strain harder and start hurting. I was cursing myself for getting us into this position but, at that point, there was nothing to do but power on another 15 miles.
I came to a crossroads where there was a Jack in the Box and a gas station. Time to ask for help! I pulled $20 out of my pocket and approached 8 different people driving trucks with room in the back if they would let me pay them to drive me into town. NONE of them would speak to me except 1 who just said no. The other 7 wouldn’t even reply even after telling them what I was doing and seeing that I was hurting. It really upset me. But, that also empowered me. Screw them! I don’t need their help! And I’ll keep my $20 thank you very much! I can do this without your dumb truck.
And we did. It was dark and drizzling a little bit. Did I say it was dark? It was really dark! I had all of my lights on and flashing, even my headlamp! I can’t imagine what I looked like if you were approaching me on the road in a bit of rain. But, at this point, there was no helping a guy on the side of the road in the dark. A police officer did pull over a few hours earlier, when it was still light out, and, instead of asking if I was OK since I obviously was not, he just wanted to remind me that it’s not safe to walk on the highway and to make sure I give as much room to the cars as possible. OK officer, I understand it’s not safe to walk on the highway. Thank you for that tidbit.
Can you tell I’m channeling all the anger I was feeling that day into this blog? But, deep inside, I was only angry at myself. I put us here and I would get us out safely.
So, we finally saw city lights! 5 miles left and there they were. We were way up on a mountain and walked down a steep grade into town. When the road flattened out I had exactly 2 miles to the motel I had reserved. I could smell the shower soap and pillow already!
And that’s when our follower showed up. I haven’t shared this with many people because I just wanted it to pass but this is my journey’s story so here goes. Two miles left and Wink starts going nuts. I turned around to see a guy about a block behind me. He was fairly small, wearing all dark clothes and camo pants. Just walking. No big deal. I kept an eye in my mirror and, by this time, had enough street lights to be able to see him. He kept his distance but was there for a full mile. Wink was not happy. Then he wasn’t there. Nowhere. Just gone! Phew…till about 5 minutes later. That’s when I heard footsteps and, of course, so did Wink. I turned around and he was back and very close. Too close for comfort. He was about 15 feet behind me and close enough that I could hear him walk. So I reached into my bag and took out my protection gear that I carry and had it all either in my hands or on their mounts on my handlebars. I unclipped Wink from my belt and held his leash. Now, remember, I am in serious pain from my leg and now trying to push harder and faster. It’s amazing how your body can ignore pain when your adrenaline is flowing!! I got up to some fast speeds. I was walking about 3.5 – 3.75 miles per hour and only had a mile to go. He stayed with me the whole way. I made it into the hotel parking lot thinking he would just go straight but, no, he walked right up to the building behind me. I walked into the lobby, set my weapons up on the counter (mistake), scared the crap out of the guy working and then quickly apologized and told him the story. We could see the guy sitting outside by a trash can smoking and the guy at the hotel called the police. Not sure what happened to that guy and don’t care. I went to my room and took a very long, hot bath. Wink crashed immediately. He also had pretty gnarly gas for some reason so, after he fell asleep, I covered his butt with pillows in hopes of them acting as a filter.
Conclusion to that very long story – that was a dumb decision I made. I know my body can’t do 42 miles. I was feeling overly confident and it cost me a lot of pain and tense moments. I will strongly consider my options better next time.
We took the next day off and stayed at the hotel for another night. BUT, while in town, I got Wink checked out by a vet (he’s super healthy and happy and well hydrated and his paws are in great shape) and I got a massage!! And much needed rest.
March 26 – We left Priceville and headed through Decatur towards Wheeler Lake. I made a reservation at a KOA campground. The walk there was incredible. We were on a stretch of county roads almost the entire day with very little traffic and absolutely beautiful scenery. The hills that surrounded us most of the day were so incredibly green and the sky was deep blue. The corn growing everywhere around us was about a month into the plant (according to one local) and it was spectacular to see it go on forever! I learned that all of these fields are planted 3 times per year! First corn, then soybean, then cotton then they do it all again. It was also that day that I ate at my very first Waffle House and posted a funny confessional video about it. A very nice man gave me $20 to pay for breakfast and it was soooo worth it! Not the best food in the world but it was so perfect that morning. My leg starting hurting again about half way there and, like a few nights earlier, caused a limp. I was really getting upset about that damn pain! Mind over matter. Mind over matter. We arrived at KOA around 4 and we were completely alone except for a few RVs parked way far away. We set up camp, made some boil in a bag mashed potatoes and ate tuna right out of the pouch. It was pretty cold that night and I had several cups of hot chocolate (those are free for the taking at most motel breakfast buffets! I will not pay for those again on this trip ;) ) The sunset was over the hills behind me and the sunrise the next morning, right over the top of the beautiful lake and nuclear power plant was pretty spectacular!
March 27 – We had a 23 mile day ahead of us and we got going pretty early. We were headed to Fisherman’s Resort so our path that day was really just going around the shore of the lake. We had lots of curves and mild hills and almost ZERO cars. This was another day of rolling corn fields, big creeks, broken down old farm houses and barns and incredible, peaceful quiet. We celebrated 700 miles that morning with everyone on FB Live and it was one of the nicer crossings because we were so alone out there. Like the past few days I was walking in pain. I called my trainer back home to discuss and she really just said I needed rest and Advil. I chomped down some of those and shoved an ice pack down my pants and that combo actually helped quite a bit.
We arrived at Fisherman’s Resort and met Wayne, the owner. What a great guy! Big burly bearded guy with a cowboy hat. He greeted me and told me to set up anywhere I wanted and that it was on the house. He even drove to the store and bought me a few beers! I took a long hot shower and Wink and I were asleep by 8. Before bed a German guy who lived on the property came over and hung out with us. I think his name was Harley. Pretty sure. He has lived in the states for almost 20 years and he lived and worked there on the property. He showed me all the different birds that were flying around and told me a lot about the area, the farms, the crops and what people were hunting out there. He was a really nice guy and it was good to sit in my chair outside by a creek and talk to him for quite some time.
March 28 – The next morning we packed up and went to find Harley where he was working to say good bye. I didn’t see Wayne and didn’t get to say good bye but maybe he’ll read this and know how appreciative I am for his hospitality. We were headed to Florence, AL which would be our last day walking for 5 days!! The walk that day, despite the leg crap, was quite easy. A lady named Beth pulled over late in the day. She had her phone on and was on a video call with her friends. She said, “Hey, are you the guy we saw on TV walking across America?” “That’s me!” She literally screamed into her phone, “It’s him!! I told you it was him! I saw his dog and knew it was the dog I had seen on TV!”. She brought her phone over and I said hello to her friends on video. Then we took some pics and she made a donation there on the side of the road. That was fun. I love it when people pull over to say hello. Just before Florence is a town called Muscle Shoals that we really wanted to stop and visit Fame Recording Studios but it was too late in the day and I was in pain and needed to get the next several miles completed. Maybe on a return trip!! We crossed the very wide Tennessee River on a walking bridge and that brought us into Florence at around 4 pm. I was a little early for my host to meet so Wink and I made our way to downtown and sat down for a much needed margarita. My host for the next few nights is Kevin McCarley. Kevin is a seriously great guy. Single dad, local to Florence and excellent host. He took me out to his local watering hole for a few drinks my first night. Downtown Florence is a pretty cool, progressive, more liberal town in the middle of the south. I met a bunch of his friends and took a bunch of pics of graffiti and murals and this odd piano that just sits on the side of the road up against a building downtown. I was pretty beat so the night was not a late one. The next day Kevin went to work and I did some damage control on Alexa. She’s getting pretty beat up so the occasional maintenance day is required! I got her all fixed up and Kevin and I went back out that night to watch the Auburn/NC sweet 16 match up. At the bar we met a group of ladies that hung out at our table. I ended up being friends with all of them on FB and a few made donations which was really cool. Hoping to camp out on Freda’s property when I head out of Florence next week. Saturday morning came after a day off and, before heading to Memphis for a few days of down time, Kevin took me to Momma Jean’s for some biscuits with chocolate gravy! OMG. Tasty but man it was an odd breakfast!
That’s my story to Florence. Headed to Memphis via rental car to hang out with a friend for a few days then back on the road April 2. Talk soon!!