The clock’s red light slashed through the darkness, revealing that the time was much too early to be awake. But alas, I lifted my pack and slung it over my shoulder, my knees giving a lurch under its weight. I stepped outside and took in a deep breath of morning air. Since I still had a few hours before the sun would come up, I turned on the blinking safety light that was attached to my pack’s strap. It was early enough in the morning that the birds had not waken up and the only sound was my shoes crunching on the pavement and rocks. I thought about my feelings last night, after I finished a day of walking 36 miles. Due to the blisters on my feet and the soreness in my legs I swore I’d never take, and I quote, “another stupid step on this very stupid walk.” End quote.
Now, with 8 hours of rest in me, I just laughed at the thought and continued on my way along side of Highway 1 on Florida’s coast. After a few hours of walking, the sun had begun to rise and the heat was creeping in. Palm forests lined both sides of the road and I hadn’t seen a soul for quite a while. Then, in the distance, I saw the speck of a person coming nearer. A few minutes later we passed, each of us giving a tiny nod. He was about my age and was wearing basketball shorts, a white t-shirt and was holding a bottle of water. I thought it strange that someone would be taking a casual walk out here in the middle of nowhere, but I thought if he was in need of help he would’ve said something. Then a few feet behind me, he asked me what I was walking for.
We stood on the side of the road and talked for a few minutes as an occasional car zoomed by. He was actually one of the two guys who are walking from Fort Lauderdale, FL to New York to raise money for Breast Cancer. He noticed my pack and couldn’t believe I had toted it with me all this way. They had carried packs for the first day, but the extra weight didn’t agree with them. They ended up asking their friend to drive the route with them, carrying their packs in the car and driving ahead in five-mile increments where the two boys would take turns walking. We snapped a photo and were on our way, both wishing luck to the other.
As I walked on, I thought about my own pack and how nice it would be to walk everyday without the extra 40 pounds weighing down my steps. It’s that extra 40 pounds what makes my days seem so hard and what makes me swear I’ll never take another “stupid step” again. Without my pack’s weight I’d be ending each of my days with nimble knees and with ankles that wouldn’t seize up and refuse to bend after resting for a few minutes. I began to curse myself for not having someone drive along with me to carry my gear. But as I daydreamed of the exhilarating escape from my pack, I thought everything we had shared together.
I know it sounds funny, but my pack has been the only consistent thing on my walk. Everyday the people I meet, the places I stay, and the scenery I see all changes. But everyday, my pack is there, taking every step with me. I’ve come to consider it a friend and a walking companion. I’ve started to feel like Tom Hanks in Cast Away, my pack like his volleyball, Wilson. I imagined my pack drifting away from me in a vast ocean, losing not an inadament object, but my best friend.. I’d be pretty beside myself as well, Tom. And though it’s the pack that actually makes my walks harder, it’s that extra blood and sweat that makes it even more rewarding. This isn’t a cake walk. Not a vacation. It’s a walk across America. It’s supposed to be hard. With that, my chest thrust out with pride and the straps on my pack grew tight. At the end of each day I may gripe about the pain that my pack brings… But I can’t explain the feeling I get when I stand alone on a sunset mountain top and am reminded that I’m not really alone when I feel my pack’s straps gently hugging my shoulders.