Music.

“Music takes us out of the actual and whispers to us dim secrets that startle our wonder as to who we are, and for what, whence, and whereto.”    ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The sky overhead clouded over as I neared my last few miles of the day. A long stretch of empty road through a deserted village laid in front of me and not a soul could be seen, except for a young boy sitting on his shoe shine box. Sweaty, tired and on the verge of death from boredom I slowly plodded down the lonely street. Its at this point in my walks where time seems to stretch and a single mile seems to go on for infinity. Its times like these where I start to believe I’ll never end my day’s walk. As I came up to the young boy I noticed he was whistling and tapping his foot. When I passed he gave me a happy nod and I could hear him quietly humming a tune. Amazed that he was so upbeat even though he had the dirtiest job in town, I asked him how he kept from getting the blues. He just grinned and said “Getta rhythm!”

With that a drum beat issued out from my iPod, its sound seeming to fill the air around us. The boy jumped up and started to strut down the street. I followed. Every few steps he gave a little skip in his step and twirled once or twice. I suddenly noticed that my backpack had magically disappeared, leaving me light as a feather. A guitar riff started in as I looked up at the cloudy sky over head and gave a frown. The young boy and I glanced at each other and then faced the dark gray mass, inhaled deeply, and blew away the clouds. A sun appeared from behind them, stretched, and gave us a wink. “Well hello, Mr. Blue Sky!” the young boy yelled up and the sun beamed. As the song entered into its first verse we danced down the street as a few people stuck their heads out of their houses and began to sing along. We crossed Abbey Road with four gentlemen dressed in suits as woman named Lucy floated overhead, littering the sky with diamonds. I asked one of them how he was feeling and he replied, “I feel fine!” “Me too!” I said. For a few seconds we saw life in technicolor as we convinced ourselves that we were indeed, very busy people. From my iPod’s audiobooks emerged Harry Potter and Edgar Freemantle. As Harry conjured jets of colorful sparks, Edgar painted the most beautiful sunset where seashells bloomed into roses.

An uncontrollable happiness had now spread over me as I started to dance down the street, a few onlookers joining in. We passed an elementary school where a banner read “School’s Out For The Summer!”, except that the words “For The Summer” had been crossed out and replaced with “Forever”. Kids spilled out into the streets and threw their homework into the air, laughing and doing cartwheels. The teachers threw out all the rules and began to smoke and kiss in the parking lot as “A+” papers fell all around them. One teacher asked what kind of music this was and another shrugged, replying, “I dunno, but it’s still rock and roll to me!” A considerable crowd had begun to accumulate behind me as I sang the chorus and danced moves I never knew I had in me. Overhead a house supported by thousands of colorful balloons passed by as an elderly couple held hands and reminisced about all the stuff that they had done. The house dropped in altitude just slightly as 99 red balloons detached themselves and floated away in the summer sky.

As the second verse started in, and more people fell in line behind me, my heart gave a jump and then leapt out of my chest. It grew arms and legs and then turned into the most beautiful girl who had ever possessed my heart. We kissed as a burning ring of fire encircled us, but we swore we didn’t start it.  “Oh! It is love!” someone nearby exclaimed. We passed by Strawberry Swing, a building labeled “Feel Good Inc.” and then a pool party where hundreds of people swam and sang, “Holy guacamole, we’ve got chips!” The crowd behind us grew into hundreds as we all started into a dance routine. We all dance and twirled, leapt and tumbled as a petty poet sang to a courtesan on top of an elephant’s head. As the second verse slid into the second chorus I rose my right arm up into the air and then brought it down onto what had been an air guitar and heard the deafening reverberation of its strings sounding through the street. We came to the town’s center square where a large stage stood and crowd of thousand stood before it, cheering and swaying. I jumped onto stage and sang the chorus as the guitarist sporting blue suede shoes to my right moved his hips in a way that made all the girls swoon. I handed my guitar to Tom who sang a few of the chorus’ final lines, “And everyday I wake, I tell myself a little harmless lie…”

I dove off stage and surfed through the crowd. I met up with my girl and we clasped hands and laughed as we floated through the masses. As we entered the middle of town square, and the song entered its space-like interlude, the crowd threw us onto a large trampoline, where we began to jump higher and higher. We jumped so high that we left the town down below, floated past the place where soul meets body, through the vanilla twilight and emerged into outer space. We saw a rocket man and Major Tom being swallowed by infinity’s limits, with the earth below them, drifting, falling. As they floated weightlessly they both sang, “This is our home… We’re going home.” As they disappeared we spun and twirled, we wore the stars that turned on our lives and kissed in a way that made the galaxies blush. As we kissed planet earth turned slowly and I thought about how love’s been good to me. We walked on sunshine and talked about what a wonderful world we live in. As the song neared the end of its bridge we began to fall back to earth, leaving behind such great heights.

We were free fallin’ as we passed eagles who were flying through a hole in the world. As we drifted down to earth the stars overhead became explosions in the sky and we landed on the ground as the song’s final chorus burst into action.  Thousands of people fell in behind us and began to sing along. A skulk of three foxes darted between our legs, chasing after red rabbits. Through the door’s of a nearby church, a large gospel choir dressed in maroon robes spilled out into the street, singing the background vocals. A heavenly voice filled the air as the hills surrounding the small town came alive with the sound of music. The energy in the air had such an electric feel that we all felt like electric eels as we sang and twirled in slow motion. We turned down the final long stretch of road which was lined by hundreds of excited onlookers. We paraded on as marching band appeared from out of alleyways and their brassy music bounced off all the buildings. We passed a turnoff for Margaritaville as someone threw me a large conducting baton and I lead the way, high-stepping through the streets, giving my step an extra bounce here and there. Fireworks exploded overhead and the elderly couple released their thousands of balloons that filled the sky, their surfaces bending the sunlight into rainbows. As spots of colors swam across our faces and the streets, my baton turned into a orchestra conductor’s wand and I handed it off to Mr. Williams. He gave it a wave and the marching band turned into the magnificent Boston Pops Orchestra as the climax of the song began. Horns blared and a timpani thundered booms as I approached the end of the road.

A portly man – the town’s mayor – was standing in front of a doorway that stood in the middle of the street, the words “The Whole Wide World” written across its top. He was holding a large poofy pillow where a shiny key lay. I took the key and then looked back at the street behind me. The parade of people had stopped and were now singing the last words of the song. Fireflies filled the air as dancers spun and everyone began to wave their hands. The orchestra’s horns swelled and the drums began to crescendo. The brown-eyed girl gave me one last smile as everyone stared on expectantly. I turned back to the door, unlocked it with the key and entered it as the last note sounded. The instant the door shut the song ended and the world became completely quiet. My pack had returned to my shoulders and I turned around to find an empty street and a cloudy sky. My heart threatened to drop, but I then saw the young shoe shine boy down the street, tapping his foot. I smiled, pushed “repeat” on my iPod and walked on as the sun appeared from behind the clouds and the world turned into my own, once again.

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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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The Man And The Shell.

I wrote this journal after meeting an older man who was obviously homeless. He passed me on the road and I asked him him where he was headed. He said, “Home.” I asked him where home was and he simply said, “Where ever you make it.”

Frank opened up his eyes and for a minute seemed to forget where he was and why there was a heavy sinking feeling in his heart. As he coughed and rolled over in his bed, his eyes fell on the manila folder sitting on the bed stand. He frowned. Untangling himself from the sheets, he threw his feet over the side of the bed and slid them into his slippers. Before standing up he snuck a glance to the empty side of the bed.  The scent of flowers filled his mind and he quickly looked away.  His heart began to hurt.  He picked up the manila folder and scuffled across the floor. Not giving a second thought, he threw the folder into the trash.  A corner of sheet of paper slipped a few inches out of the folder in the trash, revealing the single word –  inoperable.

Frank changed into his old jeans and white T-shirt, put on his shoes, and made his way into the kitchen.  He drank coffee at a small dinner table, his eyes glazing over as he stared at the empty seat across from him.  As the scent of flowers over took him again, he got up and dumped the remaining coffee in the sink. Zipping up his jacket, he grabbed a small backpack and headed out the door.  He walked down a small beaten path between two rows of trees, strapping the pack onto his back as he made his way onto the beach.  He found their rock and sat down upon it, staring at the morning sun as it slowly creeped into the sky.  His heart gave a jolt and he clutched his chest, as if keeping it in and restrained.  As the waves crashed, Frank’s thoughts drifted. He did not want to leave behind this rock and those waves. They had discovered them and didn’t want to think about some other schmucks claiming them as their own. He frowned again as he felt something bump into his bare feet.

A small hermit crab had been scuttling across the sand and was now making its way around Frank’s foot. It’s shell was old, scratched, and faded.  A few feet away, the crab came upon a much larger, shinier shell. Slowly, it crawled out of its old one and disappeared into the larger one.  For a few seconds the crab could not be seen, until finally its pincers and eyes protruded from the opening and it began to crawl away, the shell glinting in the sun. Annoyed that the crab thought it could just take what it wanted, Frank bent down and picked it up.  The crab snapped its claws menacingly as it slowly retreated to safety within its shell.  If it thinks it can just pick up and take with it whatever it wants, so can I, thought Frank. He stowed the crab into his jacket pocket.

Frank looked down at his feet, which were covered in sand.  This was the place where they had first kissed. It was theirs. It is mine, he said to himself.  He bent down and grabbed a handful of sand, then placed it in his backpack.  He began to look around for other things he could not bear to lose.  That row of trees had provide them with years of shade and relaxation. He plucked up each tree and placed them all within his pack.  Frank began to collect everything which had touched their life. He grabbed the birds they used to watch and the crickets they used to listen to and placed them in the bag upon his back. He grabbed their favorite movies and books, the rocks in the rivers and the pond they once had swam in.

Frank’s legs began to waver as he added more and more possessions into the bag on his back, but he kept on.  He snatched up flowers and waterfalls, caught airplanes in the sky.  Their old motorbike was hastily added to the pack.  As the day went on, Frank walked through the world, picking up almost everything as he went.  As the sun began to set he pulled down the scarlet clouds, which clung to the sky like cotton balls on a rough surface. As the stars began to shine, Frank ripped down their favorite constellations and stowed them within the pack. He caught the waves and then the setting sun, shoving with all his might as they squeezed into the pack.  Zipping it up, he slung it over his shoulder. He could now barely move beneath the weight.

By this time the world was pretty empty and all that remained was the ground he stood on and the moon.  As he stood up on his tiptoes and reached for the silvery moon, he heard a soft cry from behind him.  He turned around and saw a young boy who had his arms wrapped around his legs, crying.  Frank asked the boy why he cried. The boy didn’t answer, but Frank began to look around; he hadn’t realized how much he had taken and placed in his pack.  Somehow, they had seemed to touch everything in their lives, which was now all packed away into Frank’s pack.  Taking the young boy’s hand, Frank began to empty the bag’s contents. As each item was unpacked, the boy looked in amazement as Frank showed him how to use each one.

Frank taught the boy how to skip rocks on the river, how to identify birds as they flew. The boy learned how airplanes stayed in the air, how to read a map, and the joys of reading a book in a tree’s shade.  Frank put back the sun and the clouds and taught the boy how to enjoy even the smallest moments in life.  They flicked stars back up into the heavens and Frank taught the young boy about constellations and how to wonder.  The last firefly flitted from out of the pack and the last pebble of sand fell back to the earth, and finally the bag was empty.  The boy, now exhausted from the day, turned and headed back home, leaving Frank alone by the rock and the sea.

Suddenly, Frank felt a pinch at his side. He plunged his hands into his jacket pocket and pulled out the hermit crab, who snapped its claws disapprovingly. As he set the crab back down onto the sand, Frank realized he had been wrong about it. The crab didn’t take what it wanted, but made do with what it was given. And when the crab’s body outgrew it’s shell, a larger one was needed. The sea birds sang as the crab disappeared around the rock where Frank now sat. He took off the pack and set it down onto the sand. He no longer needed it. Frank watched the sky open up into a beauty he had never seen before as the scent of flowers filled the air.

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Brothers Part III: Going Home

*Please read Brothers Part I and Brothers Part II before reading this blog entry*

I let the sand slip through my toes as I settled down on the beach.  The waves crashed and sprayed a salty mist into the air, making my eyes burn slightly.  As the sun began to set behind me I inhaled deeply, taking it all in.  I then opened up my bag, rummaged around for a minute and pulled out a large green apple.  Taking a huge bite out of it, I smiled as a bit of it’s juice slid down my chin.  He was right, I thought… This is what living’s for.  I took a few more bites, watching the seagulls hover in mid air before diving into the foamy waters below.  Placing the apple down I began to go through my pack again, searching.  Finally I found what I was looking for and pulled out a small stone.  It was milky white, smooth, and had a strand of jet black asphalt that looped around the lower half.  The stone and the road. I stood up and walked to the water’s edge and let the waves suck my feet down into the sand.  I gripped the stone tightly, thinking of him. I squeezed the stone one last time, then tossed it into a calm spot in the ocean.  It skipped across the water three times before slipping below it’s surface.  I watched the ripples expand and then disappear before heading back to my bag.  I strapped it on and began walking South, along the beach.  In the ocean, my brother sank slowly, our mother’s arms gently guiding him home.

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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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Okie Dokie, Okefenokee Part I: The Train

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.

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