Category Archives: Things I’ve Learned

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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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.*

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“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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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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My Pack And I

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.

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The Beach

Coming up to the water’s edge I slipped off my pack and gave a heavy sigh. Another day done. Another 25 miles walked. The sun had begun to set and the tide was starting to suck down the sand so that with every step your toes would start to sink. I sat down on the beach as a flock of pelicans skimmed the ocean’s surface in a long line of at least 20 birds. They flew as one; the leader pulling up, arcing back into the sky, the rest following his every move. A large man and woman held hands as they passed in front of me. The man was lobster red and the woman’s backend seemed to be falling out of her swimsuit. The perfect compliment to this picturesque sunset that lay before me. As the couple waddled out of sight I noticed that I now had the beach in either direction completely to myself. The sun slipped below the waves and the world turned a mysterious purple and blue. I knew within minutes all light would be lost, but I wanted to soak up the remaining twilight.

As my mind slipped and my thoughts began to wander, I came aware to the ever obvious realization that the ocean is huge. It stretched out in front of me and I suddenly felt my heart and mind collide, trying to comprehend its distance.  Suddenly everything seemed so small and insignificant. This walk. The donations. Life itself. When compared to this expansive body of water, how could anything ever measure up. We’re just little blips in time, a speck on the map. Just then, the stars came out and the feeling was really driven home. Before me, an ocean of water. Above me, an ocean of stars. And here I was, just a single person worrying about everyday issues and concerns. What did it really matter, in the long run?  A weird feeling had come over me and I felt like ocean itself was swallowing me whole.

I looked down at my toes which were now covered with a few inches of sand. I remembered the thought I used to have when I was little, that if only I had a penny for every grain of sand… I’d have at least, like, a thousand dollars! Each piece of sand, making up this huge stretch of beautiful beach. And thats when I realized you can look at the picture in two ways: The ocean and the stars are huge and expansive and I’m just a speck within them. Or I’m just a speck that makes up a part of the huge ocean and sea of stars. That each and every one of us form to be the expansive feeling that we can sometimes feel. That really, you’re just as big or small as you make yourself feel. Maybe my life is just a blip on the radar, but it is my blip. The only way that it could be insignificant is if I tell myself so. As I got up and brushed off the sand from my shorts, I decided that my little blip was most certainly worth while. And as my heart inflated and carried me back to shore I couldn’t believe that I had ever doubted it.

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Okie Dokie, Okefenokee Part II: Bear’s Warning

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.

“Oh! Jeez. I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there!” I stammered. He said nothing. “I… don’t mean to trespass, but I’ve been walking for almost 30 miles and I’m starting to feel dehydrated…”

“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.

“Ugh.”

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…

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