The Wolf

I watched a man walk his golden retriever past the window and then as someone talked on their phone while crossing the street, ignoring the oncoming traffic. My foot bounced and my fingers played their beat on my knee. The constant buzz in my brain ate at my thoughts and I frowned as I tried to extinguish the static noise. The woman on her phone nearly got hit by a car and started to cuss out the driver, waving her hands around in the air.  Someone then passed the window wearing a green backpack and in an instant I was back on the road. I could smell the trees, taste the morning air. For an second, I was reliving the feeling of how I felt after walking 25 miles and how it felt to take a shower every night to wash it all off. A dry feeling crept into my throat and I became thirsty, mainly for chocolate milk. The idea of how much chocolate milk I drank in the span of 100 days made me smile. “Jordan… Jordan, are you even listening?!?”

I snapped my head to the voice and tore my eyes from the window. A severe looking woman sat across from me, a very concerned look on her face. “You haven’t even heard a word I’ve been saying… Have you?” she asked, although she didn’t sound mad. I looked around the office, which was extremely cluttered and didn’t match her conservative look. My eyes caught sight of the window and for a moment my mind threatened to wander off again. I shook my head and then looked at her.  “Um.. No… I’m sorry.”

She looked me over for a few seconds, then smiled, capping her pen and tucking a notepad in the drawer to her left.  “Usually when I interview people for a job position they at least have the courtesy to pretend to be interested in it…” She smiled again. I opened my mouth to apologize again but she laughed and put her hand up. “Don’t worry about it, Jordan.” She then leaned back in her chair and studied me some more. I blushed and began to play with the bottom of my tie, rolling it up like those old fruit rope snacks. “You know, I had no intentions of hiring from the moment I saw your resume, but I just wanted to meet you.” she said, watching my tie roll up and then unravel itself.

“No?” I asked, unsure if that was a compliment or not.

She didn’t answer and continued to look over me. She then asked, “Do you even want to work in a job like this, Jordan? Inside. Behind a register. Dealing with people?”

“Uh… Well. Lets say it’s not my dream job, but I’ll do what needs to get done and this…”

“No.” she interrupted. “Doing what needs to be done is what normal people do. But I don’t really think you’re normal… Do you? After this walk that is?”

I thought about the question. The walk definitely changed me.  But not in the way as I thought it would. When people go off to war or are stranded in the wild alone, something happens to them and they change. But that’s not the change I experienced. I didn’t go through a trial or tough times. I didn’t do anything that I didn’t want to. Instead it opened up this… thing… inside me. This, potential. I realized that we’re all capable of doing huge things that we never dreamed we’d do, if only we’d take those first steps. And that idea has been eating away at my brain for the past month. What do I do with myself now? I’m stuck in some kind of limbo between my walk life and a normal life, unable to slip into one or the other. I shrugged and said, ” I feel like the walk ruined me, when it comes to things like this…”

She laughed and nodded. “Not ruined you,” she said. “Just changed you. For better or worse is up to you to decide.” I raised my eyebrows and she laughed again and then thought about how she wanted to say it. Finally she said, “You’re a wolf… In a dogs world. And to chain you to a desk or indoors is only asking for trouble. The moment I saw your resume I knew that I couldn’t hire a person who just walked across the country to work at my business. Be indoors all day. Work behind a counter or desk. Dealing with customers in setting you don’t even like. No, it’s not fair to you.”

“I need a job though.” I told her, my voice shaking a little. “There are bills to pay! I have so many student loans that I’d need to get 3 jobs just to pay for them all!”

She laughed, nodded and then became serious again. “You can tame a wolf, but it’ll never truly be a dog…” I laughed and so did she. “Alright,” she said. “Enough of these dumb metaphors. The fact is Jordan, you’re at an important crossroad in your life.  You need to either try your best to come back to normal life, work a normal job, and live that life… Or you need to “take your first step” all over again. Rise up to what you want to be, and be it! Some people may tell you that you can have both, but you can’t.  You just turn into a middle-aged person who daydreams at their desk all day about what they’d like to be doing. And if they ever do pluck up the courage to follow their dreams, many wonder why they didn’t just do it in the first place. I’m not saying one’s better than the other. And I’m not saying if you decide to tone down your life for now you’ll forever be stuck in the “normal life rut”… I’m just saying I can tell that you’re not ready to let go of who the walk turned you into, but you’re not rising to meet your new potential.”

For the first time in the month that I’ve been home my mind stopped buzzing and I could think clearly. I was taken back that she knew all this about me, that this job interview had somehow turned into a pivotal moment in my life where a huge life decision would be presented.

“So…” she continued. “It’s not that difficult… You just need to ask yourself… Are you a dog? Or are you a wolf?”

*        *        *       *

I sat outside, picking pieces of grass and watching clouds. I was thinking about the “interview” I had just experienced and about what she had said. I then started thinking about the walk. Memories flooded back and my hands clenched clumps of grass, as if they would disappear if I didn’t hold on tight. I missed walking. I missed meeting new people everyday and the adventure of the unknown. I clung to the idea of meeting my brother again, or to revisiting some of the places I liked the most. My body ached to walk so more and my mind yelled for stimulation. But as a cloud turned from a turtle into a fish overhead, I realized that my inability to accept that the walk is done is whats keeping me in this murky limbo. I was clinging onto the past and to the ideas of my memories, so now, no new ones were being made. And the longer a person goes without making new memories, the harder it is to stop living in the old ones. My past was once my future and to stay there would have been to deny this moment… It would have denied what could be. With that thought, I felt my mind grow lighter and some weight disappear off my chest. What could be.  The idea that the whole world was out there, waiting for me to do something with it. Now all that was left was to choose my path. To answer the question that she had asked. Dog or wolf. I then realized that I already had answered the question, the moment I took my first step back in March.

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I Walk For Love Part II

“What are you walking for?”

I looked around and saw a woman smiling and eyeing my backpack. I had just finished the 2nd to last day of my walk and was explaining my journey to a curious bystander. She must have overheard the last bit of our conversation and missed what I was walking for. I opened my mouth to say what I had been telling everyone this whole trip… “For Haiti!”…. But as I began to say that, I was suddenly overwhelmed with emotion and memories of the trip. While Haiti had been the backbone of this walk, it had turned into so much more. I took a second to consider how to best word what I was feeling but then realized there is no good way to explain it.

How can you say that I walk for the love of the outdoors. For the feeling that everything I see during my days on the road is all mine. That I walk for the opportunity to meet new people and make friends with the most unlikely people. For being serenaded by the cutest little girls or for tastiest strawberry cake in Tennessee. That I walk for catching snakes, the feeling you get as you watch a sun set over a golden field, or the way water tastes after 32 long and tiring miles. I struggled to think of the way of saying that I walk for finding the brother I never knew I had or for the anticipation of seeing my girlfriend again. That I walk for home-cooked meals and copious amounts of chocolate milk.

She gave me a look that said, “Helloooo… Did you hear me?!”, so I tried harder to think of what to say. But the same feeling came over me. How this walk had been also about never wanting to take another step at times and for the feeling of believing that I could walk on forever. For the pain of losing a loved one and the joy of releasing baby sea turtles in the ocean. That the reason I continued my walk was learning to turn negative situations into positive ones. That everyday I get to share a sliver of my experiences with 10,500 people who are genuinely interested in it. That with every step I took, someone in Haiti would be able to take a drink of clean water. That I walk for becoming part of a stranger’s family and for the time alone. How can you say that I walk for the idea of doing something so simple that any of us can do it, it’s just about taking those first steps.

She was now staring at me with a look of humor and confusion. She looked into my eyes and I knew she understood that I was searching for the right words. I could say that I walk for Haiti. I walk to try to make the slightest dent in the battle of world hunger. That I walk for the idea of helping others while experiencing a personal, life changing experience. But how can you wrap all that up into one sentence with the slightest chance of having someone even begin to understand what you’re talking about. What way can you say it to embody all those experiences and emotions. And with that, the answer seemed so obvious it made my face flush and my heart skip a beat.

I looked at her, smiled and said, ” I walk for Love.”

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I Walk For Love Part I

“You can always walk…”

“And so I will.”

“I’m going to walk from Minneapolis, MN to Miami, FL. For Haiti.”

“What?”

“Why wouldn’t you just get a job?”

“Can I raise money for your organization?”

“No.”

“No.”

“No.”

“No.”

“No.”

“Yes!”

“You really think you can make it?”

“How are going to get home?”

“Farewell Minneapolis, MN.”

“My feet hurt.”

“The sun will come out… tomorrow.”

“Sorry Bucko, but there’s no way I’m letting you walk through my town.”

“Miami? You’ve got a long way to go.”

“You crazy old coot, you scuffle on over here and say that to my face!”

“I guess you never know where our roads may lead us. Especially when we share the same blue sky.”

“You’ve walked all the way here, to Chicago? What?!”

“Miami?” You’ve got a long way to go!”

“I don’t know how to tell you, so I’m just going to tell you. It’s Sayzles… She’s… Gone. Sayzles is gone.”

“You have to accept the fact that no matter how you say it, or paint it, or sing it, your love for another person can never be expressed in its true form.”

“Welcome to Kentucky…. Love, Missy Ippykins.”

“I heart Chocolate Milk.”

“Miami? Still got a ways you know…”

“And we both said, ‘Shoot! We can’t let our friend walk in that! Job or no job.’… So we turned tail and came back to find ya!”

“I’m just happy. I guess a little too happy…” “No such thing.”

“What’s Haiti?”

“Happiness only real when shared.”

“I’ve always wanted to see the ocean…before I…I always felt seeing the ocean would feel like going home, you know?”

“C’ is for country… and that’s good enough for me!”

“Miami? You’re like, half way there!”

“Why wouldn’t you just get a job?”

“You’ve never drank sweet tea before?!?”

“Why on earth would you walk up Monteagle Mountain?”

“So, you’re like Forest Gump… Right?”

*Honk! Honk!*

“You look too thin! Eat a third helping!”

“Uh!!! My feet HURT!”

“Well, have fun walking through Georgia…”

“Just two states left, you know…”

“Don’t you know it’s hot out here? Why on earth are you walking?”

“Welcome to the Okefenokee Swamp.”

“You just walked 39 miles for a country you’ve never even been to? … Why?”

“Thank you…”

“Chocolate milk, please.”

“Don’t you get lonely?”

“Hello Ocean.”

“In the ocean, my brother sank slowly, our mother’s arms gently guiding him home.”

“Maybe my life is just a blip on the radar, but it is my blip.”

“Nogurt… Nogurt!!!”

“Where did you start? Minnesota? What!”

“Where’re you headed?”  “Home…”  “Well, where’s home?”   “Where ever you make it…”

“If the music gets your foot tapping, you can move mountains.”

“Farewell Forests.”

“Aren’t you that idiot I saw on the news last night?”

“I say… walk on, Jordan… Walk on.”

“Miami?! You’re like… Really close!”

“What ever would possess you to do such a thing?”

“If you broke your foot, would you change it to ‘I Crutch For Love’?”

“Good morning…”

“Hello Miami, Florida…”

“What are you walking for?”

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Walk On.

*This blog contains explicit language. It is not a habit of mine to write blog entries packed full of swears, but I felt it was important to keep Brandon’s dialogue true so his feelings could be fully felt.*

_________________________________________________

“Don’t walk in front of me, I may not follow.

Don’t walk behind me, I may not lead.

Walk beside me and be my friend.”

~ Albert Camus

“Hey!… Hey!! Hey, look at me!”

I glanced up and saw a guy about my age standing up from his seat and waving over at me. He had sandy blonde hair, wore a light blue polo shirt and khaki shorts. I paused on the busy sidewalk outside of a cafe where ten or so tables were packed full of people reading their papers and talking over coffee. I took out my iPod earbuds and looked over at the man yelling at me, giving him a small smile.

“Hey!” he said, “Aren’t you that idiot I saw on the news last night?” He laughed and the guy sitting down at his right chuckled. The girl to his left tried pulling him back down into his chair but he just pushed away her hands. A few people looked up from their papers and glanced between me and the guy.

“There are a bunch of idiots on the news, buddy. You’ll have to be more specific.” I retorted and to my relief a few of the bystanders gave a chuckle. The man just slowly sneered and I knew I should have just kept walking.

“Yeah… Yeah, you are that fuckin’ idiot walking for them fucking Haitians.” He gave a laugh and looked down at his buddy, who gave him a feeble smile and then took a drink from his water glass.

“Brandon!” the girl to his left hissed. “Don’t! Just leave him alone.”  The guy, Brandon, paid her no attention and his sneer broke into a wide grin.

“If it isn’t Forest Fucking Gump. A fuckin’ retard walking across the country for a bunch of idiot people who don’t give a fuck about any of us.What do you say to that, Forest?”

An older man to my left scoffed and almost everyone else sitting at the tables had now turned their full attention to our conversation. A very large muscular man sitting at the table between me and Brandon had a strained face and I could tell he was holding back his words, but for what side of the argument, I didn’t know. I considered for a second then said, “I say… I don’t understand why you care so much. I’m not asking you to like my cause. And it’s not like I’m taking money away from anything. The people who donate to my cause do it because they want to. So, I say you don’t need to like it, but you should work on showing a little bit of respect…”

Brandon laughed and the girl rolled her eyes at him, giving up on trying to make him sit down. When he finished laughing he turned his eyes back to me and I gave a little start. His eyes were fire and his smile had turned back into a sneer, though this time it was icy. Menacing. “Is that so, Forest. Retard Forest. You’re a fucking idiot to think walking will make any kind of fucking difference. You’re raising money for those fucking Haitians when it should be going to our own country. You masquerade behind that fuckin’ mask of yours, calling yourself an American, when all you care about is getting rich by using those brown folk across the sea – who, mind you, don’t give a fuck that you’re doing this for them – as an excuse to get on TV. Don’t you see you’re fucking wasting your time. The New’s time. America’s time. How about you help out America. Do something worth while. How about you walk your ass around the country for the oil spill, huh?”

The moment I had decided I was going to walk across America to raise money for a different country, I knew I was going to meet some negative feedback. I considered changing my cause early on because I thought maybe I could get more support or donations for a cause closer to home or for one that more people cared about. But I realized that I cared about the people in Haiti and that was a good enough reason right there. Over the nearly 100 days of walking I’ve gotten some flack from people about my cause and that I should take care of my own country first. I’ve tried my best to explain that doing any kind of good should still be considered good. Or that God doesn’t have borders or boundaries when it came to helping people out. Or that they themselves should start up a little charity themselves and raise some donations for a cause that they’re passionate about. Usually when I said any of this they just laughed or turned away, but I felt I always got my point across. Now, 5 days from finishing my walk, I had encountered a person who would not change the way he felt no matter what I would say. I could making the most compelling story for my cause and he would just spit at it. He had situated himself into a tight corner and there was no way he was going to go back on what he had originally said. No way I could change his mind, so I tried to accept that and walk away.

“That’s a good point, man. So I challenge you to do something for a cause that speaks to you, like the oil spill, and raise money for it.” I knew it sounded stupid, but I was done with this conversation and by the looks of it, the muscular man between us just about had enough of it as well. I gave the cafe patrons an apologetic smile and turned my back on Brandon and started walking away.

“That’s right, fucker! Run away… Run, Forest Run!” Brandon laughed. “Or should I say walk away, Forest, walk away!”

I heard the girl try to calm him done again as I continued to weave in and out of the cafe tables towards the sidewalk ahead.

“None of it matters!” Brandon shouted after me. “You’re a fucking waste. You’re all alone and you’re a fucking waste.”

I stopped. My head was buzzing and I could feel my anger reaching boiling point. I turned around a looked at Brandon who was still standing in front of his table, sneering. I noticed the girl and guy who had been sitting with him were walking down the street in the opposite direction, throwing glances back over their shoulders.

“What did you say?” I asked. His last comments had for whatever reason stung and he knew it. His face lit up with the satisfaction that he had finally got to me and his sneer turned into one of those evil smiles that were reserved for only the most sinister villains in the movies.

“I said nothing you’re doing matters. No one cares about those dirty fucking brown people, or their country No one cares about your walk. No one cares about you. Haven’t you noticed that no one is walking with you? It’s cause no one fucking cares. You’re a fucking retard. You’re all alone.”

“A man is never truly alone…” came a voice coming from my right, “unless he himself believes it to be so!” I looked over and saw the older man who had scoffed earlier now rising out his seat. He must have been pushing 80 and wore a blue shirt with blue shorts and bright white socks that came up to his knees. My heart leapt and fell at the same time for the old man. While I couldn’t believe that this old man was standing up for, I felt like he didn’t realize that clever lines like that one didn’t have the same impact in fights these days as they may have fifty years ago. He gave me a small smile as Brandon burst into laughter.

“Oh, I was wrong, Forest! You aren’t alone. You’ve got stupid old geezers with you as well!”

The old man scoffed again and I noticed he was swaying back and forth trying to keep his balance. Resting against a chair next to him was a walking cane and I could tell he was trying his best to stand his ground without it. The old man then chuckled and pointed over at Brandon. “It looks like it’s you who are alone now, son.”

Brandon looked behind him and noticed his two friends were no longer with him. He just shrugged and said, “Whatever. They feel the same way as I do. Everyone here does! I’m just the only one who has balls enough to say it. Everyone here thinks you’re a fucking loser!”

With that the muscular man exploded out of his seat, still not looking at either me or Brandon. A vein in his forehead looked ready to explode and his face blushed in a deep red. His mouth was thin and in a small frown. He then looked at me and I gave a step back. Then he looked over at Brandon, who still had a smile wiped across his face, but the heat behind his stare had faltered. Finally the man said, “Not everyone here feels that way.” The three of us stood there, looking over at Brandon and for the first time in the conversation I felt myself swell with pride. I suddenly felt like my 10,000 Facebook followers were right behind me. That my family and friends were at my side. That all the people who I had met over the last 100 days had my back. That not just one, but two countries stayed steady beneath my feet. My face, which had crumbled into a sad and sorry look, now beamed with appreciation and I stared into Brandon’s eyes which were now hastily sweeping the faces of the people staring back at him.

The patio was absolutely quiet and everyone looked between the old guy and me, the muscular man and then Brandon. Finally Brandon puffed up, his face contorted into a grimace full of hate. “Well believing that is what makes you guys so fucking dumb.” He spat at the ground, turned on his heel and marched after his friends. For a few seconds no one moved a muscle. Then the muscular man glanced over at me, his face still stone cold and for a split second I could have sworn he gave me a small wink. He then sat down, sipped his drink and stared ahead. I noticed everyone else was still looking at me and I suddenly felt very uncomfortable. To my right, the older man asked, “You headed up the street there that way.” He pointed and I nodded. “Great!” He exclaimed. “You can walk this old man to his car!” He gave a chuckle, left a few bucks on his table, grabbed his cane and then took my arm.

We passed by the rest of the tables and a chatter ignited from them the moment the old man and I got onto the sidewalk. We walked down the street where we introduced ourselves to one another. By the second block he had me laughing and the thought of what just happened started to sink below corny jokes and the warmth of the sun. We walked another two blocks until we came to a dark green car and the old man propped his cane up against it. We stared at each other for a few seconds before a face of concern came over his face. “You don’t believe him, do you?” he asked.

“Believe what?”

“That you’re alone.” He simply replied.

I considered for a second and then said, “Well, I believe that I’m not, so that makes it so… right?” I gave him a smile.

He smiled back, just a little, and then continued to stare at me. Finally he said, “I have a better saying, I think…”

I laughed. “Yeah?”

He cleared his throat, looked me straight in the eyes, then said, “While a man may find himself alone, he never truly will be if his friends reside in his heart.”

His eyes were brimming with tears and I couldn’t hold back mine from doing the same. Finally I stuck out my hand and said, “Well… What do you say then, friend.”

He laughed, grasped my hand with a strength that took me by surprise and said, “I say… walk on, Jordan… Walk on.”

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And So I Will

January 27th, 2010

I loosened my tie as I stepped outside into the blistering cold, the wind blowing my gelled hair into a style my mother would never approve of. Another interview over and done with and no where closer to obtaining that elusive “career”. My father’s words echoed in my head, “If not anything, with each new interview you gain that much more experience!” I have gained so much experience through these interviews that I could be the one sitting on the other side of the table asking all the questions. And as if my four year college education and degree didn’t give me enough experience for these very, very entry-level positions. But seven months since graduation and over 1,200 resumes sent and applications filled out, I was not even one step closer to having a job.

As I got into my car to head back home I felt my face burn red from my frustration. If there was one thing that I prided myself on, it would my work ethic. I’ve always worked hard at the jobs I’ve had, even when I worked as a janitor cleaning toilets with a grimy toothbrush. I didn’t like it, but it was my job and it’s what I had to do. And now, a college degree under my belt and with ambition spilling out my ears, I couldn’t even get a potential employer to give me a glance. I lacked the one main thing they were looking for: direct experience. Never mind my education, my six years in customer service, and a nicely prepared resume; I just didn’t have two years experience working in the exact field I was applying for. And forget the question “How is one suppose to gain this experience, when no place is willing to give the experience?” Those are questions, you apparently, just don’t ask.

Thirty-five minutes later I pulled into the drive way and entered my home. On the table was a stack of bills: phone service, rent, heat, health insurance, and enough student loan forms to fill a filing cabinet. With my savings account nearing the red, the pressure to start earning an income had never been greater. The recent job denial stung my mind and I began to pace around the room in anger. I don’t even want to work any of these positions I’m applying to! Jobs that college graduates usually secured were now going to the older candidates who had been laid off from their previous jobs. I’ve had to resort to applying to positions in coffee houses and yogurt shops. Positions that I could care less about. Where the only point to getting it would be for the paycheck. I want to work in a field that I at least somewhat care about, doing things that make just a little difference in the world and fills that space in your heart with pride and ambition. Something you work so hard at but you wouldn’t have it any other way. A job like that was no longer even on my radar; it had been bumped off as I filled out the countless applications to low paying, and even lower satisfaction, positions.

I shuffled into my bedroom and sat in front of the TV. Nothing interesting on. Typical. My eyes wandered over to my closet where I could see my hiking bag and a freshly folded stack of laundry. The idea of packing up the essentials and heading out the door onto a grand adventure, leaving behind all my worries left my mind as fast as it came in. I knew running away from my problems wouldn’t solve any of them, though it did have a strong appeal. I peeled my eyes away from the closet and returned them back to the TV. I switched channels until I came across the local news which was covering the recent earthquake in Haiti. As I watched the videos of the tired and hungry survivors and what were left of their homes I realized I was in the perfect situation to help! I didn’t have a job which left my schedule wide open. I’m in great shape and have always enjoyed hard work, especially if it’s helping others out! This was the one thing that I could do with my time and effort to really make a difference, not only to Haiti, but to myself as well. Then and there it was decided that I would go down to Haiti with one of the relief organizations to help the people in need.

I spent the next few hours pouring over the internet and creating a list of major organizations and non-profits that were providing relief to Haiti. I grabbed my phone and started calling the numbers. I navigated through the automated message like a sailor in the sea. I spoke to operators, to volunteers, to project leaders and anyone and everyone in-between. Not very long into my phone calls I started to realize a reoccurring trend. Once again my lack of experience was weighing me down. All the organizations required their volunteers to have at least 2 years of natural disaster volunteering experience. I couldn’t believe it. All I wanted to do was help and I was being turned away, just because I had never had the opportunities to gain the experience needed to fit the guidelines.

I sighed as I hung up the phone with the second to last number on my list, once again being denied a volunteer position. I was urged to donate money to the organization but explained how I didn’t even have enough money to buy groceries for myself. I picked up my phone and dialed the last number on my list. After minutes of listening to automated messages and pressing a series of buttons I was on the line with an operator. After a few minutes it came clear that this organization was no different; no experience, no volunteering. In a last fit of desperation I asked the woman on the other end of the phone, “Can you just tell me… How can I get down to Haiti to help?” After a moments pause she simply replied, “You can always walk.” And promptly hung up.

I stared straight ahead as my mind buzzed. The frustration of the conversation, the day’s interview, the months wear on my ambition and hope burned my brain and ripped at my heart. But suddenly a deafening silence came over me as I turned my eyes back to closet. The pack and clothes were still there. I noticed that a few feet away from them my hiking shoes were sitting side by side, seemingly staring up at me, ready to go. In the desk drawer my map and compass called to me. The TV flashed images of starving children. Wreckage and debris. Slowly, a smile crept across my face as I replied, “And so I will.”

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Farewell Forests… My Old Friends…

A thought suddenly popped into my mind today, so suddenly that it stole the air from my lungs. I was walking along highway 1 towards Jupiter, FL and I realized that today would be my last day of walking alongside forests or any other kind of wild countryside for the remainder of my trip. To you, it may not seem that big of deal, or it may even sound like a good thing! But for me it tugged at my heart. The majority of my 93 days of walking have been alongside an old state highway with towering forests or vast fields on either side of me. I grew accustomed to swatting away insects, the smell of roadkill (not saying I like the smell anymore than I used to), and long days of not seeing any sort of business or building. I had watched the pines of the north turn into the palms of the south. And now I was trading it in for cheap motels, burger joints, and an occasional building taller than 4 stories.

After today, I start to walk along the part of the Atlantic’s coast where each city bleeds into a larger one until finally, Miami is born. I stood on the side of the road when that realization hit and looked ahead. About a mile ahead I saw cars glinting in the sunlight at a busy intersection and large colorful balloons floating in sky overhead… undoubtedly attached to gigantic American flags in a used car lot. I then turned around and looked at the Jonathan Dickinson State Park I was leaving behind. It definitely wasn’t the most beautiful forest I had ever walked through, but this being my last of the trip, it looked beautiful.

I almost produced a tear when I thought about how I wouldn’t ever again during my journey wake up early and start my walk in the foggy mist on a lonely highway, with only the morning birds as company. Granted, I knew many more forest walks awaited me in my life, and not along side of a road to boot… but all the same, it was an end to a chapter in this journey and I hated to say goodbye. A flock of pelicans flew east overhead as I took in my last truly fresh breath of forest air. I gave one final look, said goodbye to my old friend the forest and then turned south, stepping into the final miles of my walk.

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NOgurt!

As my day ended I reached around to my pack’s side pocket and pulled out my water bottle. Empty. I smacked my lips, which were dry, flaking and cracked. My mouth was as hot as an oven. As the evening sun radiated against my face, I tried to clear my throat but it turned into a raspy dry cough. I looked over to a small strip mall off the side of the road and saw a line of small businesses crammed in next to each other, ranging from a cellular phone dealer, a minute gym, a gold for cash shop and at the end a small frozen yogurt shop. Its red neon light was ablaze and suddenly a creature inside of me stirred, then sniffed the air. I was hungry. And I wanted yogurt.

I crossed the black sea of a parking lot and came up to the little shop. A few small tables with chairs sat neatly on either side of the entrance and a flower-pot wafted a strong scent of pollen, intensified by the afternoon heat. Though the store’s name and logo was printed across the door, the shop didn’t show any indications whether it was open or closed. I tried peering in through the windows, but they were tinted black and I couldn’t see through them. I cautiously opened the door and an electronic chime sounded far off in the back of the shop. I peered inside and saw that the whole place was empty, including behind the register. I walked in and looked around. There were a dozen small metal tables with matching chairs scattered about and each ones surface was spotless. The floor was that annoying black and white checkered patterned and I suddenly felt a little warped. I glanced up over the counter and began to read the different flavors of yogurt they offered, their prices and all the different candy assortments I could add… the more expensive the more unhealthy. I shuffled over to the counter and yogurt freezer and peered at where normally big metal bins of different flavored yogurt would be held.

Instead, the bins were completely empty and I looked over at the register and saw that the drawer wasn’t even in it. Right when I started putting two and two together I heard someone humming in the backroom. Their footsteps grew louder and I quickly looked over at the door, trying to decide if I could make it out of the shop before whoever it was came out from the back. But just then the backroom door opened and a young asian woman came out, holding an arm full of yogurt cups. “Uhhhh…” I said, wanting to make my presence known as soon as possible in an attempt not to startle her. But that did just that and she screamed a blood curdling scream and tossed all the red and white cups into the air. She took a step back, frightened and clutched the counter behind her.

It was this moment where I noticed a big sign overhead that read “Grand Opening On July 1st!”. She continued to stare at me, uncertain of my intentions. I opened my mouth to say something like, “I’m sorry for startling you, Ma’am. My name is Jordan Dibb and I came into your shop to get some of your finest fro-yo and have only just realized that your store is closed!”. But when I began to talk, the dryness of my mouth and throat made me wheeze a bit and all that came out was, “Yooogurt!” My voice cracked when I said this, making it go very deep towards the end of the word. I sounded like Frankenstein.

“No!” the woman shouted, but she still seemed fairly afraid. I tried to clear my throat but began into a coughing fit and I held up my hand, hoping to convey an “I’m sorry” gesture. I opened my mouth to try to explain again, but my words got caught up in my throat and all I was able to cough up were, “I… want..ed… YOGURT!” I coughed out the last word so loud that even I was taken back. This sudden outburst seemed to give the young lady some strength and anger flashed in her eyes. “NO!” she repeated and took a step at me like you would to intimate an approaching tiger. I took a step back, my hands still raised and still coughing. “No!” she shouted. “No, gurt! No-gurt!! Nogurt!!!”.  She had a very thick accent and as she shouted her two words started to blend together in her anger.

She started towards me yelling, “Nogurt! NOGURT!” and waved the remaining yogurt cup in her hand. I tucked my tail between my legs and ran towards the door, all awhile trying to clear my stupid throat and apologize for the mixup. I sprinted out the door as one of the paper yogurt cups flew past my right ear. After the door shut I heard the lock bolt tight and the lady behind it talking fast and angrily in a language I didn’t recognize. My throat finally cleared by the time I reached the side of the highway and I continued along my way. I glanced back and saw the roadside sign for the yogurt shop that read, “Tasty Yum Yogurt”. I was suddenly overcome, for just a moment, to buy a can of spray paint and write over those words with “NOgurt!”.

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