Yesterday I walked past this holy sign en route to Gainesville.
In the Bible belt, unsurprisingly, there are quite a few signs championing God.
I’ve no problem with this – when in Rome – and as I wrote before, most people in this area, rather than coming across as wary and redneck, have shown immense generosity, their faith focusing on kindness rather than guilt and fear.
I’ve always struggled with faith, recalling the writer, Julian Barnes, when he mused: ‘I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.’
That said, on this long walk I do sometimes like to pray – for family, for friends, for the future, for those going through hellish times… I also like saying grace at mealtimes when staying with families in the Bible belt. It feels right to give thanks out loud for food. I normally never do this, but there’s something very touching about it.
On the road, the basics – food, water, shelter, warmth, company – things I normally take for granted, come to mean so much, as they should. It’s been really good to get excited again about the little things: a shower, a hot drink, a shared meal, a new map, an encouraging smile, a Twix bar…
Though mine is a secular pilgrimage, it would be impossible walking all this way, not to dwell on the spiritual. The feeling of my smallness in this huge world, my insignificance, can bring, if not faith exactly, great acceptance and peace of mind.
Moving from the sacred to the profane, I have also included a sign for a Japanese restaurant I passed called ‘Fuku’.
Honestly, I’m sure it means something deeply poetic in Japanese, but couldn’t somebody have told the poor owners it’s not the most welcoming name over here!
That said, I heard one local wag say it’s doing well and they might open another, called ‘Fuku2’. Oh dear, sorry for lowering the tone, but it did make me chuckle.
The gloomy weather has made decent landscape shots tricky lately but, pleasingly, the sun is due to shine this weekend as I make my way east towards Arkansas. Magic.
‘If you want the rainbow, you have to put up with the rain.’
So said the sage and sassy, Dolly Parton.
This rainbow is blasting through a black cloud en route to Honey Grove, where, after an 18 mile day, I struggled to find a place a camp: the whole village was still drenched, the ground spongy with excess rain.
Kind locals came to the rescue and let me sleep in the Westside Baptist church hall.
Jovial Pastor Terry opened up and declared the milk, ‘so old you could eat it!’. Deacon Larry provided coffee and Deacon Michael brought in the biggest blow up mattress I’d ever seen. I felt as pampered as Marie Antoinette and slept soundly. Thank you so much fellas.
In Texas accommodation has varied wildly from churches to cotton fields and camp grounds, to barns, gardens, ranches and kind families.
When drenched I’ve also used the odd motel to dry off. Out here in the sticks there are some wonderfully ramshackle pitstops.
One such motel cost only 30 bucks – just over 20 pounds a night. It had up a sign on its door banning dogs, cats, birds and mice – guns too.
That said, the room looked like it had not only housed all the four banned beasts but smelled like it had entertained a gang of chain smoking, semi-house trained raccoons too.
I won’t name the place, as it was run by an elderly, ex homeless man who was such a sweet soul, and frankly, I was just happy for shelter that rainy night.
As he’d seen me pushing Koko, he’d thought I was homeless too and offered to buy me a burger and chips. I thanked him but refused. He clearly had so little but had still been willing to share, which I found so touching.
Today I walked 25 miles to Paris, Texas – a town with the same name as a lovely, bitter sweet 80s Wim Wender’s film about a man who walks out of the desert into a small town, having not been seen for ages. Hmm, been there mate.
Despite many chain stores now, Paris still boasts century old buildings and a pretty town square, dominated by a fountain, living up to its catchline, ‘full of French class and Southern sass!’.
Scenery looking much more English now as I head further east – woodland, Angus cattle, ponies, rain… Indeed, there was even a sign for a tiny hamlet called English.
Last night, after a long 27 mile day, I camped in De Kalb City Park and woke up to a striking red sky, seen as a bad sign for shepherds, and indeed, world walkers.
Within an hour it was drizzling and I adorned Koko with the usual robust bin liner, which makes her look like a damp Goth but keeps my kit dry.
De Kalb is in the tornado belt and in 1999 one ripped through town destroying nearly 100 buildings, including much of the local school.
At a cafe near the park, where I ducked in for a plate of spag bol last night, I met local resident, Linda, who was a child at the time the tornado struck.
‘I remember the roof was ripped off our classroom,’ she said. ‘We were all praying and crying, ears popping due to the pressure.’
Amazingly, despite all the damage, nobody was killed and the town is now proudly rebuilt.
Another diner at the cafe, who’d driven out for a meal from neighbouring Oklahoma with his wife and kids, went by the name of Nasty.
Nasty said it was funny how tornados always had winsome names like Doris and Samantha, but still caused so much destruction.
‘Just as well they’ve never called one Nasty,’ he joked. ‘ That would really wreak havoc.’
I told him he didn’t appear that Nasty.
‘My Daddy called me Nasty once when I was a tearaway kid,’ he added. ‘It just stuck.’
When I asked for the bill for my spaghetti I was told Nasty had already paid. Nothing I could do. I’ve a feeling Nasty’s name is ironic: like calling Morrissey ‘Sunshine’ or me ‘Lanky’.
I wobbled, full bellied, back to my tent in the park, once again marvelling at the generosity of strangers and glad there was only a light breeze that night.
Tomorrow, from New Boston, I’ve a 23 miler to the Arkansas state line and will finally leave good ol’, gigantic Texas – second only in size to Alaska.
Fingers crossed Arkansas treats Koko and I as well as the Lone Star.
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Many thanks to David and Joanna Fox-Pitt for their very generous donation to Medical Detection Dogs (MDD).
Anyone interested in the three charities I’m walking for – The Alzheimer’s Society, The Puzzle Centre and MDD – just click for info and how to make donations. If you are able, any of the three great causes would really appreciate your help.
Many thanks for reading and hope to see you somewhere down the road…