Hello again, hope this finds you all in good heart. I walked through the mist into Alabama this morning but will save that for next time.
These posts are all about lush and complicated Mississippi.
Mississippi is my smallest, quickest state to date but made a huge impact, its beauty, its history, its contradictions. Here, below, are my latest updates.
Day 127 to 129
This shot was taken at the BB King Museum in Indianola, flanked by Roger and Earnest, two of the Blues legend’s ex security guards. BB himself is strumming his heart out in the photo behind.
I’d arrived at dusk, after a 22 mile walk from Greenville, thinking I’d be too late to get in. As luck had it a private party was being thrown and I was allowed a peek.
Roger and Earnest were a goldmine of stories. They told me BB stood for ‘Blues Boy’ but his real name was Riley King.
BB had started to sing while picking cotton as a boy in a local plantation. Indeed, his museum is partly housed in the only surviving brick cotton gin in the South, where BB once worked.
He’d hitchhiked to Memphis in his 20s and soon made his mark, ratcheting up hit after hit, including the evergreen, Stand By Me.
‘BB was a one off,’ said Roger. ‘His voice, maaan, it cut right through you. That wise dog never forgot his hometown. Played a concert here every year and is buried right outside, God rest his soul.’
That evening I popped in to nearby Blues bar, The Blue Biscuit and met the owner Trish, over a can of Mighty Miss Pale Ale.
Trish had once been the chef for local actor, Morgan Freeman. I joked how he always played God like characters.
‘Oh Morgan’s no God,’ laughed Trish. ‘But he’s lovely, funny as hell and plays a mean game of chess. He’s got a Blues bar about 50 miles from here. Rough and ready joint but always hopping.’
After Indianola I hotfooted to Greenwood on flat, straight Highway 82, then today 26 miles onto Winona over small, forested hills.
Sheriff Banks Tucker pulled me over earlier this evening. Not to arrest me but warn that snow is due tonight. Kind fellow.
Seemingly less kind was the Indian chap who runs the little motel where I’ve taken cover. Eyeing up Koko, Nirendra asked: ‘You don’t have bed bugs do you, Sir?’
‘No!’ I replied, scratching my arm.
Then he told me he’d once worked in a factory in Birmingham and loved the Queen. We ended up having a great yarn about the old country, all talk of bed bugs squashed.
Day 130 to 131
The recipe to celebrate clocking up 2000 miles – a bunch of cheery strangers mixed with hope, faith, love…and groceries!
What with Kermit, BB King, suspected snow and long mileages over the last few days, the 2000 milestone had slightly taken a backseat.
I walked past the tiny community of Stewart yesterday evening dead on my feet and worried where I would sleep as the mercury was due to plummet to -5 degrees.
I blundered into Nails One Stop, a family store and diner, and asked if I could set up my tent or find shelter.
Eric, whose granddad, then dad, had run the store before him, said he’d look into it while I warmed up with coffee and chips.
Soon Eric had kindly sorted me out with a night in an empty trailer home nearby. Perfect!
After the rest of the lovely kitchen crew, Lori, Ginny Beth, Kayla, Jacob and Amber heard about my walk they all joined in the 2000 mile celebration.
It always amazes me on this journey how one minute I can be dog tired, alone, cold, a bit scared and the next, surrounded by friendly folks, warm, safe and joyous. Without wanting to sound unbearably naff, these moments fill me with a deep love for this world and its people. The chips probably helped too.
Later that evening I met Pastor John, an ex rodeo bull rider who not only preaches but works full-time repairing highways (his hi-viz is even shinier than mine!), built his family farm with his bare hands and breeds a few cattle.
‘One rodeo,’ drawled John, with a grin. ‘I got bucked and trampled so bad my shirt was ripped clean off. That darn bull near killed me. God saved me then and plenty other times. I love rodeo but stopped after my kids were born.” Old school charm and grit.
So grateful to John, Eric and all the gang at Nails One Stop. It’s people like you who have enabled me to walk 2000 miles, and who keep me going. Onwards East!
Day 132 to 134
So happy to cross the final bridge in Mississippi, straddling the Tennessee-Tombigbee River.
After a 25 miler from Starkville yesterday, I’m now happily camped in Brown’s RV Trailer Park in Columbus, the tent surrounded by pine cones and Camelias.
The owner, Russell, told me I’m the first person to ever camp there – so can stay for free. Typical Mississippian! Even better, after some freezing nights, it’s now turned positively balmy.
Mississippi has been the shortest state to walk distance wise but has left some of the strongest impressions: the best and worst of America.
It’s the poorest state in the country and this was very evident walking through Greenville, one of the poorest cities.
The roads are cracked and littered – no pavements or hard shoulders – many shops are boarded up and drugs and crime are rife.
In America now, astonishingly, it’s more likely to die from a drug overdose than in a car accident: pain killers, too, are in ever increasing demand. It seems like a country battling for its very soul.
But through all this the great things about the USA still shine out: the rustic splendour, the unshakable belief in the American dream and above all, a staggering kindness, nowhere more than Mississippi.
I’ve witnessed great generosity throughout my walk from so many Americans – all classes, creeds and colours – but sometimes it just blows you away.
Walking into Starkville the other night a jalopy pulled up beside me. The driver, a deadringer for an elderly Barry White, tried to hand me a 10 dollar bill.
‘It’s cold, son,’ he said. ‘Get something warm to eat.’
I declined, his car looked like it was held together by duct tape, his hair snow white, his hand shook and he had about 4 teeth. He kept holding the note out and I kept declining, until we both started laughing.
‘Be safe, brother,’ he said finally. ‘Keep walking and God Bless America.’
Then he smiled, and in that ruined-toothed smile, with all its warmth, hope and quiet nobility, there was greatness.
A big shout out to all the Nails One Stop team near Stewart – Eric, Nicole, Lori, Ginny, Amber, Jakob and Kayla and to Pastor John. To Sheriff Banks Tucker, to Mark Hannaford, founder of the great World Extreme Medicine, to Trish Alex and all the Fratesi family at the Blue Biscuit in Indianola and to Roger and Earnest at the BB King Museum, to Russell at Brown’s RV Trailer Park and to Taylor in Columbus. Huge thanks too, to Claire Pearson (MDD), Linda and Boudicea for recent donations to the three great charities: the Alzheimer’s Society, the Puzzle Centre and Medical Detection Dogs.
For more info on the three wonderful causes I’m walking for or on how to make donations, please go to the Charities page.
For more regular walk updates, follow me on Instagram #tomsworldwalk.
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