Hello y’all, as they say in the South. Well, in less than two weeks I hope to be plunging into the sea at Savannah in celebration, having walked from the west coast of America to the east coast (provided my visa hasn’t expired!).
That said, it is still far from in the bag. I’m a bit knackered, the weather is wildly changeable, the roads aren’t the best for walking and I will be carrying a large backpack with my camping gear, clothes and GPS tracker, rather than pushing my lovely cart, Koko. The reason for this is that the highways to Savannah are busy and have no, or Lilliputean, hard shoulders – and it is illegal to walk on the wider Interstate (motorway).
This lack of hard shoulder has been a problem for a while now but manageable. As I head East though I have had far too many close shaves with traffic with Koko.
With my backpack, though it will feel heavier than Koko, my movements are less restricted and I can walk on grass/gravel verges much easier. My great American friends, Rodney and Emily, who live in Atlanta, kindly picked up Koko from Macon today and will look after her until it is safe for me to use her again.
Koko doesn’t talk much and her steering is a bit wonky but she is sturdy, dependable, has fine curves and tolerates my singing, something NOONE else does. I’ll really miss her as I walk on East.
Here, below, are the latest updates from the end of Alabama to mid Georgia.
Day 146 to 148
The Doorstep Mile – this is what the Norwegians call the first mile before setting off on a long, testing journey.
Time to give up creature comforts, pull yourself away from soft beds, home cooking, log fires – and hit the road.
The first mile maybe the toughest but, to my mind, there can be many doorstep miles over a journey.
Three nights ago, in the forests near Camp Hill, I was put up by Mitch and Harriet in an apartment near a lake.
And prior to this, in a mobile home in the woods, on a church floor, in the staff quarters of a Mexican restaurant and on a sofa bed in the Birmingham suburbs. I, a hiker, had been invited into the homes of strangers, so lucky to share such fleeting but intimate snapshots of their lives.
The only problem is the next day I move on again, often unsure where I will sleep, the cosy, safe havens where I’ve roosted still vivid in my mind, as is the banter, the laughter, the warm glow of human company…
At first I feel a bit bereft, lonely, at sea, just wanting to lose myself in the walking, but as the day progresses, the light waning, a kind of feral fear takes over, an exhilaration.
I stake out my little camping patch, and start to relax, remembering the kind souls who have hosted me over the journey so far.
They are like my beacons of light, leading me on. I may never see many of them again but all of them, through their trust and kindness have been crucial to my wanderer’s mojo.
Their stories are crucial too. Mitch and Harriet are a mixed race couple who have a son in the US air force, serving in Japan and a daughter who wants to be a zoologist. As a couple they would have sparked some hostility in the South a half century ago but now no-one bats an eyelid.
‘My giant Harry Potter glasses cause more looks,’ joked Harriet. ‘Amazing to think black and white were still segregated in my lifetime – but now we’ve had a black president.’
As I set up camp last night in Smiths Station I thought of the many generous souls in Alabama who had put me up over the last fortnight – a trove of golden memories to draw on as I walk East.
Georgia awaits. Sweet dreams.
Oak trees in the mist near Geneva with a splash of cowslip like flowers
Day 149 to 151
Welcome to Geneva, Georgia, like its Swiss counterpart it’s pretty, rain splashed and has a lake, (well, more a pond), but, in contrast, it has only about 200 locals, many whom I met.
The only tent at soggy but beautiful Lake Pines Camp and RV Park near Columbus
I walked 18 miles here from the Lake Pines campground, where, once again, I was the only tent amongst dozens of RVs and caravans. A damp but glorious setting.
Before then I’d yomped through Columbus, the first city I hit in Georgia after straddling the River Chattahoochie – home to Fort Benning, one of America’s largest army bases.
After a soggy trudge today, I was delighted to warm up in the church in Geneva and speak to the local youth group.
A perfect bivvy spot in an alcove outside the church in tiny Geneva
The avuncular deacon, Mackey, a towering 6 ft 6 army veteran, later let me bivvy in the church’s external alcove, a perfect spot.
I was really impressed by the teens I chatted to today and their kind group leader, Molly, even rustled up some hearty chicken and dumplings. A Southern classic.
The youth group at the Baptist Church in Geneva
The teens were sparky, funny and engaged, with a keen vision of what they wanted to do: one was about to join the Marines, others wanted to be nurses, beauticians, singers…
It was clear they care about their community and the wider world, no sign of snowflakery here.
I was asked the best thing about the walk. Other than the many terrific folks I’ve met perhaps the stand out pleasure is simply being outside so much. Even as I write this I am looking up at the stars.
I’m in the open air a lot. And yes, I’ve been snowed and rained on, blasted by 65 mph winds and runaway tumbleweed and toasted by the sun – all of which can be both grim and invigorating. But I’ve had lots of great weather too.
Reports show that time outdoors, even on the bleakest of days, is still infinitely better than being in a strongly lit room.
I feel so lucky. Walking in nature boosts mood, lowers blood pressure, helps the immune system and bolsters libido…the latter very low on the agenda, even if my cart, Koko, has got nice curves…
Tomorrow heading on East towards Macon.
Day 152 to 154
So far, Georgia is not so much on my mind, as blowing my mind.
Cherry blossom and moody skies near Fort Valley
This photo of symmetrical, pink blossomed trees and wild, moody skies, I snapped near Fort Valley, is so typical of the Peach State’s contrasts.
Georgia boasts the prosperous city of Atlanta, the hometown of Coca Cola, CNN and Martin Luther King but is also the fifth poorest state in America.
One minute I am walking past gorgeous fruit orchards, the next, acres of black, shiny solar panels dominate the horizon.
I’ve slept in pine peppered campsites and rustic churches but today hiked into Georgia’s third biggest town, Macon, pronounced like bacon, and saw derelict, graffiti-strewn suburbs juxtaposed with a vibrant, classical downtown.
One thing that hasn’t faltered is the goodwill of strangers. Twice I have stopped in greasy spoon cafes for coffee, gone to settle up, and been told the bill has been covered, without me ever knowing who paid. I must look homeless or maybe Little Boy Lost like a pre-swashbuckling Puss in Shrek. Whatever the reason, it’s very touching.
Two nights ago, I reached a village called Butler and ate a baked potato with chilli at local cafe, Justin’s Place.
Justin is a super friendly lad with special needs. His dad, Jim, runs the cafe and likes Justin to meet and greet the punters, which he does with great charm and energy.
The splendid team at Justin’s Place, Butler
Justin’s Place exudes a warm family and community glow. Jim even let me kip in a nearby bunk house. Top man.
After a long 25 mile yomp today, I’m now in Macon, the city of Otis Redding and Little Richard, and soon have to make a big decision about Koko, who has been to me, a bit like Wilson (a football with a smiley face) is to Tom Hanks in the film, Castaway, although, to be fair, Hanks really did just have poor old Wilson to talk too. I’ve had half Georgia.
Now need to have a big think about Koko, who struggles on Georgia’s patchy hard shoulders – but more on this next time…
Big thanks this week to the friendly folks in Smiths Station; to Dave at Lake Pines Campsite in Columbus; to Mackey, Molly and all the gang at the church in Geneva, to Jim, Justin, Lance, Mary and all the crew at Justin’s Place in Butler and to Rodney and Emily Cook for being stars in Macon.
And thanks so much to all of you who have spurred me on during this crazy, wonderful walk in whatever way, big or small – many of you from day one back on September 22.
Thanks to all of you who have donated to the splendid charities – the Alzheimer’s Society, the Puzzle Centre and Medical Detection Dogs (who opened a new building last week, hurrah!) and thanks to all those kind folks who have helped on the road with shelter, food, encouraging words, prayers and messages. It all has meant more than you know.
Ok, I better shut up, and start revving myself up for the last 180 miles. Next time I write on FB I will either be in Savannah, readying myself to fly to Canada to see Eliza for her birthday on March 15 and to extend my US visa for the next stretch, or, if I am still walking when my visa expires on March 14, in the nick (prison to non Brits)…
For more info on the three wonderful causes I’m walking for or on how to make donations, please go to the Charities page.