I wrote this blog 5 days in after I started walking. I was in some small town in Wisconsin.
I watched as the officer slowly made his way back towards his squad car, the warning lights making blue and red shadows dance across the road. He didn’t care that I was just passing through. Or that I was raising money for a cause. He barely glanced at my business card, or at news clipping that I had shoved in his face.
“The facts are simple, Bucko.” He had told me. “I’ve gotten four calls from residents saying they saw a vagrant homeless man wandering around town. I told them I’d take care of it, and that’s what I’m doing.”
“I’m not a vagrant or homeless! I’m just heading through!” I protested. “I’ll be out of your city limits in a matter of minutes if you just let me by!” My voice was cracking, My face was sunburned and I was constantly shifting my weight from one swollen foot to the other. I looked pathetic.
“I’m sorry,” he smiled. “But there’s no way I’m letting you cross through my town. You’ll have to turn back and find another way around.”
“The other way around is a three day detour on foot! This is the one of the only roads that leads south through this part of Wisconsin! I’m walking across America! That detour will throw off my schedule!”
“Not my problem, Bucko. Travel safe.” He gave a wink and walked away.
“Thanks, Hoss.” I murmured, just loud enough to be heard.
He got to his squad car 40 feet away, turned around, and sank into a lazy lean against the trunk. He crossed his legs and took his hat off, placing it on the car.
“By all means, don’t let me keep you from anything important.” I told him.
“I just want to make sure you get on your way safely.” He said, lazily, as he settled deeper into his lean.
I gave a heavy sigh and limped over to the side of the road, and took off my backpack. The weight from my pack, combined with walking twenty-nine miles in one day, had made my feet swollen and sore. My shoes had red stains forming on them from where the blisters on my feet had burst open. My face was sunburned and I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast.
The sun was slowly sinking into the empty cornfields, the sky burning a beautiful red. Red skies at night, sailor’s delight. I don’t think that transfers over for walkers. I began to shiver as I felt my situation begin to sink in. I knew I could just go on my way for now and then travel through town in an our or so when the sun had set. but even then, I knew that tomorrow would just bring on another set of problems and pains. I was on day four of walking and I had already had enough. My feet were so destroyed, I doubted I could even take another step. I knew I couldn’t do this. Not alone. Not all by myself. A tear streamed down my face as I came to my decision. I’m done.
I started to rip open the pockets of my pack, tearing out my clothes and supplies, looking for my emergency phone. I remembered wanting to pack the phone near the top so it was easily accessible. So, naturally, it was most likely lost at the bottom of the seemingly endless bag. I glanced up in the middle of my search and looked at Hoss. Still leaning against his squad car, he was picking at his thumbnail and had the smallest trace of a smile on his face.
Socks, shirts, and shorts littered the side of the road as I finally reached the bottom of the pack. I felt my fingers touch a plastic bag and grabbed it. I pulled out the ziplock bag, which held the phone, some extra cash, and a few pictures that I wanted to keep dry. I unzipped the bag and powered on the phone. The screen blinked to life and a loading bar appeared. Waiting for it to load fully, I started to pick through the ziplock bag to see how much money I had. Twenty. Thirty. Thirty-five dollars and…twenty-eight cents. I couldn’t help but smile. What was I thinking? I was going to walk across the country with thirty-five dollars in my pocket? As I pulled the cash out of the bag, I noticed a photo that I had completely forgotten about. I slowly pulled it out and felt my heart fall into my stomach.
A few days before starting my trip, a young boy and his mother met me at the lake where I did my training walks. The boy explained that he was actually adopted and that his birth mother lived in Haiti. He explained that he and his birth mother had kept in contact for many years through mail, sending pictures back and forth. Unfortunately, the young boy had not heard back from his mother since the earthquakes in January. He knew I was packing light, but had asked if I could bring the photo with me on my walk. He asked that if I made it down to Haiti when I finished walking, could I pass the photo around in hopes of find out if his birth mother had survived or not?
“We just need to find out if she did or didn’t make it.” Explained his adoptive mother. “It would mean a lot either way…we just need to know.”
I took the photo and promised them I would keep it with me and do everything I could to help find her. They thanked me profusely and I assured them it wasn’t even a big deal. Why would it be? It’s just a photo. I went home and tucked it into my pack and had forgotten about it by the next day.
Now, a week later, I thought about going back home and having to tell them I didn’t even make it a five days. I wouldn’t be able to help the little boy find his birth mother.
“Well, it was really hard to keep going…and my feet hurt really bad. So I gave up…” I imagined telling them. The words didn’t sit well in my heart.
I looked up at Hoss, who was staring back. He seemed to be getting fidgety and I doubted that his patience would last much longer.
I looked back down at the photo and first time really looked at the young woman in it. She couldn’t have been much older than I am. She had a pink T-shirt on and was standing in front a large green potted plant. Her smile was stunning. I could remember the little boy’s smile as well. They were definitely mother and son. I then noticed her eyes. They didn’t match her smile at all. They were sad. Red and puffy. She had obviously been crying moments before the photo was taken, and I could suddenly imagine the person taking her picture telling her not to look so sad, so she forced out a smile. I began to wonder if the photo was taken moments before she said goodbye to her baby son. I couldn’t take my eyes off the photo. Our eyes were interlocked and I suddenly felt hundreds of butterflies take off inside of me.
“Let’s get this moving along here, Bucko!” Hoss shouted over.
My eyes stayed fixed on the photo. My heart began to beat quickly. The pain from my knee disappeared. I felt my brow lower and I clenched my jaw. Finally I brought my eyes away from the photo, folded it up, and tucked it into my shirt’s breast pocket. I tossed my littered clothing back into the pack and zipped it up. Throwing it over my back, I buckled the chest straps. The clicks from the buckles reverberated in the night air, as it had since become eerily quiet.
I brought my gaze up and met the officer’s, who was slowly rising out of his lean. His smile had disappeared and was being replaced with a small frown. His face’s expression was a mixture of confusion and irritability as he straightened up and held my gaze. Forty feet apart, we stood staring into each others eyes. A cool breeze swept pass as birds took flight and the setting sun made my eyes burn fire. My head pounded and my eardrums sounded like timpanis in my head. I could feel the pavement waiting beneath my feet. My heart beat violently as I took a step south…towards the officer. Towards Haiti. Towards my promise.
Draw, Hoss… I’m walking to Miami.