Once back on the highway I pulled out my phone and used its GPS to see where I was. After a bit of searching I found the railroad crossing that had just saved my life and figured out where that put me accordingly. I was nearly at the halfway point, where Google Maps had told me, the one and only gas station resided on this 36 mile journey. I crossed the highway and started walking, Johnny Cash singing in my headphones. “Come on… Getta rhythm!” I sang, bouncing down the road, giving my backend a little waggle here and there as I got some rhythm. A convertible full of people my age passed, honking and cat-calling as I did a little dance on the side of the road for them. Maybe it was just the near death experience with the train, or the Man in Black playing on my iPod, but I was feeling good. It’s times like these where I say if a song gets your foot tapping, you can move mountains.
A few minutes later I came around a corner and saw the gas station up ahead. I noticed as I walked towards it that no one was pulling their cars into the station and my heart began to sink. When I got closer I could tell… It was shutdown…. A big wooden board was nailed over the front door and red graffiti littered the walls. My mouth suddenly became very dry. I had finished the last of my water after narrowly escaping the train, thinking I’d be able to refill here at this gas station. False. I walked around the side of the abandoned building looking for a faucet and saw that one of the big windows had been broken. Looking around to see that there wasn’t any Fuzz, I carefully climbed into the window, my two water bottles in hand. The building was completely empty except for a few wooden boards, a card table, and some empty beer bottles. Searching for a sink I shouldered open a door and saw four or five rats scuttle into holes along the floorboards. I was in a small bathroom and ran to the sink. I turned the faucet on and a putrid brown liquid spilled out. I left the tap running for a few minutes but the water’s quality didn’t improve. Discouraged, I climbed out of the building and put my empty water bottles back into my pack.
I was certain I’d be able to find a house or business along the highway as I continued towards Folkston, GA, another 19 miles away, so I set off. A few hours later I had not come across a single building and was beginning to feel myself getting sapped of my energy. Suddenly my brain snapped to a memory of watching Man vs Wild with Bear Grylls (one of my favorite shows) and all I could think about was all the times that Bear warns the viewer against dehydration. But it wasn’t like I was out in the middle of nowhere! I was on a well-traveled highway with tons of passing cars… If it got too bad I could always stop someone.
Four hours later I was starting to get a very sharp headache and little spots had started to appear in my vision… Tell tale signs of dehydration, according to Bear. Just then I say a mailbox on the side of the road and ran up to the small dirt driveway that seemed to get eaten by the pine forest. A few hundred feet in was a small house and I couldn’t see a single person or car. What I could see however was a small hose facet on the side of the house and I tip toed onto driveway. The canopy overhead blocked out all light and large amounts of spanish moss hung off tree’s limbs like tears that just wouldn’t fall. I hit pause on my iPod which was playing the audiobook version of Duma Key by Stepehen King. This place was creepy enough without King’s words dicing through my imagination.
I ran up to the facet and turned it on. Once again, a rusty-brown liquid came out. The quality seemed to clear a bit, but after tasting some, I couldn’t really tell if was okay to drink or not… Where was Bear when you needed him. Just then I heard something move on the house’s porch and I stood straight up. There on a rocking chair was an old man, starring out at the woods. “I wouldn’t drink that if I were you…” he said, not even looking at me.
“Hm.” he said, though I don’t know if he heard me. “The Culligan Man brings me my water. Yes… I wouldn’t drink that if I were you. No… No, I wouldn’t”… He still stared out at the dark forest and my mouth became even dryer… Something I didn’t think was possible.
“Well, I’m sorry to bother you.” I said, briskly walking back onto the driveway and back out towards the highway.
“I wouldn’t drink that if I were you!” he shouted after me as I walked back onto the highway, back into the sun. I continued on towards Folkston, my water bottles still empty and my headache becoming worse and worse. Suddenly all I could see were drinks. A Culligan Man truck drove by. Tropicana was printed across a few of the train’s compartments as it passed. A Coca-Cola semisaurus rex roared past and every one of my steps turned into a countdown until I reached Folkston, where there would for sure be a gas station. Only 8 more miles to go… 7… 6… The sun seemed to be getting hotter as it made its way back towards the horizon. 5… 4… 3… 2… One mile left to go and I could barely tell what I was doing. All I knew was I wanted something to DRINK! My watch chimed the hour tone and I looked down at it. 8PM… I had been walking for 14 hours, 9 of those hours without water, all in blistering heat. Bear disapproves.
Up ahead a gas station sign glowed in the setting light and I quickened my steps, which were now more like lurches. I felt like a starving zombie who had just seen the last person on earth. And I was hungry… Or should I say thirsty… I burst into the gas station and the woman at the counter said, “Hello!” in a very merry tone.
“Ugh!” I managed to say as I shot her a look then made my way to the beverage section. I grabbed two pints of water, a pint of chocolate milk, a 16oz Coca-Cola, and a Green Machine Naked Juice. I threw down all my bottles and a ten-dollar bill onto the counter.
“Ohhh! Thirsty are we?!” the clerk said, giving a giggle.
She rang me up and gave me back my change. As I headed to the door she cleared her throat and asked, “So.. Are you like… Walking across America or something?”
My throat burned and my lips were chapped. I doubt I could’ve said anything if I wanted to. I gave a nod and slipped out the front door before she could ask more. I went around the back of the building and found a grassy area to sit down and drink my new treasure. I first picked up a pint of water and downed it all within seconds. I opened up the chocolate milk and drank a fourth of that. Unable to restrain myself I opened up the Coke and started downing that as well. It was the most wonderful feeling in the world and I had never tasted anything better in my life. Just then Bear Grylls appeared in my memory once again, this time when he had told the viewer not to over drink when you are dehydrated, since usually your body won’t be able to hold it in and you’ll end up throwing… Just then my stomach gave a lurch and I leaned over to the side in time to throw up at least 2 pints of water, chocolate milk, and Coke. After it was all out I gave a laugh at my hastiness and lack of control.
And just then my stomach gave another lurch, but this time not from the gallons of liquid inside my stomach. I suddenly thought about the reason why I was doing this walk and about the people in Haiti I’m raising money for. The thousands of people who experience dehydration much worse than I had experienced each and every day. And whats worse is they don’t get pints and pints of water at the end of the day. They go to bed thirsty and wake up even more so. But here I was… Drinking so much water that I threw up and still had plenty more to drink afterwards…
I stood up, packed the remaining bottles into my bag and went back around the building. I stepped into the gas station where I was greeted by the still very cheery clerk. “Oh. You’re back!?” she sang.
“Yeah.” I answered. “My names Jordan and yes, I’m walking across America. I’m doing it to raise money for Haiti.”
I slid a business card with my website and name on it and she picked it up, beaming. “Great!” she said. “How can I help?”
“You can go to that website and donate when you get the chance. Even a single dollar helps.” I said.
She nodded then said, “My name is Ashlee and its a great pleasure to meet you.” Her smile had become very sincere and her eyes were kind. We shook hands and I left. I walked the remaining few miles to the small motel where a donated room awaited to me. After arriving I showered and climbed into bed. My email inbox chimed and I pulled out my computer. An email was in my inbox notifying me that someone had made a donation towards my Haiti cause. I opened up the email which read, “Ashlee has donated $100 towards your cause.” I smiled, took a sip of water and thought about Bear’s warning… Easy does it. You’ve got to learn to slow down in life, cause man… The things you’ll miss if you don’t…