The latest from the road, as I head into the chilly but soul charging mountains beyond Payson towards New Mexico.

Thanks so much for all your support. I might soon start synching my more regular Instagram posts with my Facebook ones. So rather than one long FB post each week, you would get several shorter ones.

If this fills you with horror, do feel free to deactivate me, defriend me, even defenestrate me if needed.

Ok, here goes:

Day 44

The only tent in Tonto Creek Campsite – and with good reason, it’s now officially closed until April 3, 2019.

Why? It’s too cold. Being a Brit it still feels positively balmy, but for Arizona in the mountains, it’s deep winter now.

Still, having been in the desert so long, I’m loving my first woodland camp.

Also, loving the fact the locals tell me it’s fine to break the rules and camp here – even the lovely team at Payton Tourist Info, Maia and Tracy, hinted I could just duck under the gate. 

Tonight, I should really be out checking the political pulse of America, as it’s the vital mid-term elections.

But I’ve kept my posts deliberately non-political, as it’s not really my arena and having spent the last six weeks walking – today 16 miles from Payson – I’ve been out of the loop.

I’ve noticed how hard boiled the political sparring has been this time though, with some serious muck raking on both sides. 

On the plus side I’ve been impressed how engaged the public has been and suspect the turn out will be high.

Yesterday, in a store, I heard a snippet of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, made in Nov, 1863, four months after the famous battle.

Perhaps the best known speech in American history, it’s only 269 words long and lasted just two minutes. 

Lincoln spoke after Edward Everett, a clergyman, had banged on for over two hours. On the day, neither speech caused a stir, but over time the brevity and beauty of Lincoln’s words took hold. It’s not hard to see why, even from a short excerpt:

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our power to add or detract.

The world will little note nor long remember what we say here; but it can never forget what they did here.

After hearing so many insults hurled around this campaign, it’s good to remember politicians can create poetry too.

Day 45/46

This ‘Loner’ sign in Tonto National Forest would have made my Mum laugh. 

I’ve been thinking about Mum a lot during today’s walk, as it’s exactly 5 years ago that she died.

Mum was a true homebird, and liked nowhere better than Athawes Farm, especially the garden.

She never really understood my wanderlust but, being the sweet soul that she was, always accepted it.

‘It must be so lonely out there, darling,’ she would say.

‘Not really Mum, I meet lots of people. I learn from them.’

‘Nothing you wouldn’t learn from the locals here.’

Mum was right in many ways. The more I travel, the more I realise people are alike across the globe, united by the same human hopes, fears and dreams, albeit living in wildly different circumstances.

But do I feel lonely away from home? Of course I miss family and friends hugely, especially if I’m having a grim day (it’s been said, rightly, that every journey, should be a fragment of hell).

But most of the time I love the open road: its charms, its challenges, its wild unpredictability.

Mum and I were very different in this way. She prized familiarity. But she always taught me to cherish home, being part of a community, wherever that might be, for which I’m so grateful.

Mum died as a result of Alzheimer’s. She was such an active person: cooking, dog walking, gardening, driving at terrifyingly slow speeds in her beloved Mini.

Seeing her physical decline was very sad, but we were so lucky that mentally Mum still knew us all by name and retained her sparkle and sunbeam smile: so often Alzheimer’s can change a person beyond recognition.

Near the end, when the doctor told us we were about to lose Mum, she had a startling last Hurrah, asking my sister, Fanny, and I, for cups of tea and chocolate cake. 

Her short term memory, gone for years, even sparked back. It was a golden, near miraculous 48 hours, full of love and laughter, and then she was gone.

Bless you Mum, and thank you for walking with me today, and every day. 

In memory of Mum, my walk is raising money for the splendid Alzheimer’s Society.

Thanks and Cherry Bye, as Mum always said.

Day 49/50

Well, Spam, it gets a lot of unfair abuse, but trust me, this new Hickory Smoke flavour deserves a Michellin Star.

The hunting season is in full swing in this part of Arizona, mostly for elk – sign posts are everywhere and even an elk road crossing – but also mule deer and Javelina, a tiny, super furry wild pig. 

I’ve seen none of these but have spied several coyote, a skunk and a bald eagle, all of which thrilled me.

While walking the eighty odd miles from Payson to Show Low, the weather has changed radically, and once, outside Coles Livery Store, I had frost on my tent.

It’s been so mild up to now I haven’t even used my fly sheet, but here in the mountains it’s a must.

My bandanna has been replaced by a beanie, my T-shirts with thermals, my pants with pantalloons – and I wear a hi-viz jacket to avoid being run over or bagged by a trigger happy elk hunter.

The people in the hills have been nice as pie. At one horse Forest Lakes, almost everything was shut for winter except a grocery store run by Mark and Lonne. When I finished buying a few snacks including the mouth-watering Spam, they told me it was on the house.

‘Why?’ I asked, as I hadn’t even mentioned my journey.

‘We saw you walking up those hills way back,’ Lonne said. ‘And heard all about it from other locals.’

I insisted I paid, but they insisted harder, and I was hugely touched.

Some people just really want to help and, maybe because I’m over fifty now, it can cause me to well up, which I always try to disguise, often poorly and causing huge embarrassment within about a three mile radius.

Mark even ran after me as I walked off, insisting I took his hi-viz jacket, but fortunately I was able to show him mine and he backed down. 

The mountain people really look out for one another. And the names on the signs are terrific, including Hog Wash Road and Snowflake.

Tomorrow I strike out for Vernon village church and in four days I should reach New Mexico.

Phone signals are weak up here so I may not report for a couple of days but fuelled by Hickory Smoke Spam, all will be well. 

Thanks for your support y’all.

Special thanks this week to Maia Crespin and Tracy at Payson Visitors’ Center, Matt and Karinsu Miller, Cindy, Glenda and Kendra at the Beeline Cafe and Mark and Lonne in Forest Lakes. Also, big thanks to the wonderful Cook family, Emily Cook Rodney Cook and of course, Panfi, for their generous donation to Medical Detection Dogs (MDD), which has just made a great breakthrough with promising results for sniffing out malaria.

Many thanks and hope to see y’all down the road….

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