The morning sun kissed my cheek as I walked merrily alongside a winding snake-like road. Already 8 miles in my day’s walk, I was feeling pretty darn good. Today I was 3/4 of the way done on my adventure across America and for a celebration, my route awarded me a day of 36 miles of walking. I decided before heading out that morning that I would keep in a good mood, regardless that today would the longest day distance wise during my entire trip. What made this walk even more special wasn’t the fact that the sun beat down 96 degree rays onto my face, but because I was walking past the Okefenokee Swamp! For weeks people have been telling me to get excited for the swamp, saying that I should brace myself for I would surely encounter wild snakes and alligators. Cool! I would respond. That sounds like my kind of walking.
But as I neared the 10 mile mark I came to the realization that this day would most likely be just like rest, seeing the swamp laid a few miles away from the highway and well out of sight. By 10am the day had already reached the mid-ninties. The two water bottles I carry with me were both nearly empty and I knew I should save the rest until I reached the center point, 17 miles in, where Google maps had said the one and only gas station on this 37 mile stretch resided. The pavement in front of me shimmered in the heat and I felt every pore on my body dripping with sweat. Suddenly across the road I heard the deafening sound of a train horn as it slipped through the trees next to the road, barely visible through the brush. Apparently a train track ran parallel with the road and after the train had passed I made my way through the twenty feet of forest until I came to the tracks. The trees next to the track shaded the whole area and a being off the black tarmac felt at least 5 degrees cooler. Since I had been walking for almost four hours and this was the first train I had seen in all that time, I felt confident that I could walk along the tracks for a few hours before the next one would clamber by.
For the next hour I walked up on the tracks, kicking a rock out of the way every now and then. I could still hear semis and cars on the highway, just through the trees. As I walked the ground on either side of the tracks seemed to be getting soggy and more reedy. Another hour in I noticed that dirty water now flanked both sides of the train tracks and from the looks of it, it was only going to get more wet as I continued. I considered turning around and going back, but I felt I was already half way through this stretch of tracks and that I might as well continue. On a day where I have to walk 37 miles, a 4 mile back-track didn’t sound very appealing… Another half an hour in it was apparent that I had just entered the Okefenokee Swamp and like a giant, long bridge, it seemed that these tracks ran straight through a large swampy body of water. To my left I heard a large splash and saw something scaly slip under the water, leaving behind a huge ring of ripples. I hastened my pace.
A few minutes later I took out my camera and set it up to take a timed picture that I hoped to use for my Facebook page. I hit the button, propped the camera on the metal rail, and ran ahead on the tracks to pose for the photo. Just before the camera went off it fell forward and then off the track’s rail. The moment after it fell the camera’s flash went off and captured what I could only guess was a blurry picture of the ground. I walked over to camera and bent down to pick it up, placing one of my hands on the track’s rail for support. The rail vibrated just slightly and I kept my hand on it, trying to decided if it was actually moving or if it was just an effect the heat was having on my hand. I looked down both ends of the tracks but didn’t see anything. I laid down on my stomach and put an ear onto a rail, listening. I thought I could hear a low rumble, but then again, I had never really tried that technique before. Could just be my imagination, I thought. Very slowly the two train track rails began to vibrate more and more and started to emit a metal whirring noise. I looked down the tracks towards the direction I had just walked from and suddenly a bright light punched through the hazy air quite a ways down the track.
In the distance, I heard the train sound its horn as I scrambled to put my camera back into my bag. The tracks had begun to rumble as I threw the pack onto my back. To my left I heard another large splash, this time much closer. I looked down the track in the direction I had been heading, away from the train, and saw a car pass over the tracks a little less than a quarter of a mile ahead. I looked back at the train, which now sounded much closer and I could make out its grill and front windows. Without thinking I burst into a sprint towards the road crossing up ahead as my forty pound bag thumped against my back with every step. The conductor of the train must be able to see me now, since the horn was being blown almost every other second.
The small rocks and pebbles in between the wooden tracks started to vibrate and rattle as I picked up the pace. Up ahead I saw another car drive over the tracks at the crossing. The train sounded its horn again, this time much closer. I fought the urge to look behind me and saw a rather large alligator head slip into the murky water along side the train tracks. The metal rails were now vibrating violently and the metallic whirring noise filled the air around me. Up ahead I saw the road where a few cars waiting on either side for the train to pass. Behind me the train sounded off again and I felt my leg muscles burning with the added weight of my pack. I suddenly thought of one my high school teachers who use to say, “Life is what you make it… So make it!” I had wanted a little adventure and now that’s exactly what got… except for the fact that in 10 seconds my little excitement was going to squash me flat.
The train was now so loud I could hear every gear of the wheels turning, the pebbles getting crushed under its weight and the horn seemed to be right on top of me. The swamp on either side of the tracks turned into a muddy, grassy soup and then into solid land. “Woooooaaahhhhahahaha!” I yelled as I gave a last burst of speed, then leapt off the tracks, arms sprawled and feet kicking wildly. One of my shoes caught on a rail and I rolled down the rocky incline, landing with a thud as the train up above roared by. I heard the conductor shouting something as he passed. I gave another shout of excitement and leapt to my feet, watching the train. Smiling I glanced over at one of the cars waiting for the train to pass. In the back seat, a small boy was clapping his hands together and laughing. His mother, however, was looking at me with the most stern face I had ever seen. I gave her a wave and a look that hopefully said, “You don’t need to tell me… I know my mother would have not approved…” She seemed to get it, gave a little smile and began clapping along with her son. As I brushed myself off and began to head back to the highway (where I decided I would complete my walk from) I wondered what my teacher would say if he’d seen what “I’d just made.” A+ work, in my opinion.