June 2011

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Mountain time: "Old Hangtown" was good for Team Mikeywalks.

Closing out June with a big helping of thanks to the Mountain Democrat, especially Editor Pat Lakey and Photo Editor Krysten Kellum for today’s coverage of the walk across America. You can read their front-page story here. Brooke and I had a blast in Placerville and the surrounding area leading us into the El Dorado Forest. “Old Hangtown” can hang with any town. Making a run (actually slow walk along the winding, construction-laden, long weekend-loving 50) into the Sierras to, hopefully, make South Lake Tahoe by tomorrow night, where a bed and hot shower await. Ah, the simple things.


Love on the run

Morning wood (at attention), there to greet me just east of Placerville

As I continued my upward climb into El Dorado National Forest, I couldn’t help but think of that Hugh Grant movie “The Gentleman Who Walked up a Hill but Came Down a Mountain”. Not that I ever saw the movie. The title always made me think: That has to be the worst movie title of all time. I’m sure the auteur thought he was very clever, very deep or very sarcastic. As for me, I’m still waiting for the Came Down a Mountain bit, but that won’t be for a long time. I saw the elevation in Nevada (next up!) tops out at 7,700 feet. Spent the morning walking through Main Street in Placerville, a cool old miner-49er kind of town, nicknamed “Old Hangtown” for their old Saturday afternoon matinees back in the day. Today, totally noose-free. Brooke and I even got interviewed by the Mountain Democrat — oldest paper in California — for a Friday article (will post the link later). The kind of town you’d likely speed past at 70mph on your way to Tahoe, but at 3mph it was worth slowing down to glimpse. Tomorrow, the push up Rte. 50 toward Tahoe (42 miles).

June 29, 2011, El Dorado Forest, a breakthrough: Trees are evolving!

The Pony Express Trail led me to the 50.

Donning the white hat: A speed bump in Sacramento begets one smooth ride.

Things looked a little down in the dumps Saturday when our seemingly able-bodied co-pilot pushed the eject button and split Sacramento without me … or my things. Holed up in a Motel 6 (really, this must be the flagship Motel 6 — pool, hot tub, TWO guards patrolling the parking lot for people drinking in their vans), what was a would-be walker to do? I called in the big guns — Mrs. T (that didn’t come out quite right) and she was on the road to Sacramento the next morning. Work schedule? Cleared. Booked girls trip? Cancelled. Now she’s making sure I cross the Nevada desert (and walking every mile!) — the guardian of the gait, the sage of the saunter, the protector of the paws. She is my hero, my inspiration … And this walk just got a whole better. Thanks, babe. (And the blister-poking sewing needle is divine!)

Wednesday's push east provides the first walkable stretch of Rte. 50.

A Peanut-Butter blizzard with Troop 66 before their night of comedy skits.

A Peanut-Butter blizzard with Troop 66 before their night of comedy skits.

Heading for the hills and the Nevada border has me reflecting on where I’ve already been, and those I’ve met. While walking may seem reflective, solitary, anti-social, thus far it’s far from that. It’s been collaborative, even social. Heading for Dixon last week, I began my walk at the intersection I’d left off the night before. There was a stop sign, a metal works plant and open fields. I wasn’t looking forward to the day at all. Then, right at that drab, dusty field a series of hot-air balloons from Napa were looking to land. It was there watching the sky parade I met Cricket, her daughter Nancy and grandson Aiden. The intersection, and day, became a party that ended with camping at a skydivers’ event her son was attending that night. In Davis, there was Dan and Boy Scout Troop 66, who bought me a DQ Blizzard in exchange for hearing my story. When I was in service road hell en route to Sacramento, Bruce broke from the pack of aggro cyclists to see what the lonely walker was all about, and donated to the cause on the spot. Meditative? Much of the time. But lonely? Not yet.

At your service: Bruce made a workman's walk worthwhile.

Cricket and the sky parade started the dodge to Dixon.

Whether it's the new camera or the tall can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, it's still joy.

A special “Hey, now” goes out to Matt “Matty” Stanton, my MikeyWalks co-pilot, driver, filmographer, night guardsman, Bleu-cheese Combos-eating back-watcher and random skydiving party in the woods crash-mate. Every time I hit that proverbial wall, there’s the mikeywalks support vehicle. The man van, or “Big Bully,” has provided shelter in some of the nicest Denny’s parking lots west of the Sierras and church lots presided over by banana-eating pastors. For a mid-afternoon jolt of AC, I’ll gladly listen to that Kenny Chesney disc one more time. This first week, the grind that it was, would have been unimaginable without mi compadre Matteo and his cooler full of tall cans. I’d like to say more, but we have to go crash this random nighttime skydiver yee-ha at the Yolo County Airport outside Davis. As far as random places to camp go, it’s a little surreal with propeller planes taking off all night, but the showers are free if you pretend you just took a leap.

Are the purple lines roads? Sometimes you have to get lost before you're found.

Tim (pictured with Raymond) took to walking a week before shipping out to Afghanistan

A week into this walkabout and it’s clear this is all about the people along the way; the journey, man, not the destination. From Casey and Michael, who made an illegal u-turn just to talk to us in Vacaville to the church secretary who said her parishioners would pray for our safe travel this Sunday. Then, walking along a dirt farm road Google sent me through in the late afternoon, I saw the border fence and I was on the wrong side of it. Then, a truck ambling my way. Hold on to your hat there, Walden, cause you’re about to get booted off your first property. Instead, the truck stops and the driver asks why I’m walking. I could barely finish before he said, “I’ll walk with you.” He flips the truck into park and leaves it in the middle of that dirt road. Tim and I (and Raymond the Jack Russell Chihuahua) walked together past the farmlands and into the next small town. He said I had inspired him and he’d love to do a walk like this someday. Then he told me he’s shipping out to Afghanistan next week. Thanks for inspiring me, Tim. I never walked easier miles. And be safe, brother.

Greetings from Elmira, CA

When I did become "that guy"?

As I stood over the animal skeleton along Route 12, taking a picture, I couldn’t remember the smarmy caption I was going to make. My mind drifted to darker thoughts (or dark humor), as in what if something happened to me and this was the last picture I had taken. People I don’t know might have a laugh. I was remembering walking through that vineyard and well, having to go, so I went, and what I thought was a Syrah may now be a Pinot (beware Jessup’s 2011 vintage), but what a beautiful walk along 12 East out of Napa. And I thought about the Sour Cream and Cheddar Ruffles in the support vehicle and whether Matt had eaten them all because they sounded really good, even as I stood over that animal skeleton ready to snap a picture. And then I remembered those two dudes who pulled over to give me bottles of water, and an apparent contact high. And then I forgot why I was looking through my camera.


A scant three days into your little walk across America? Baaah.

Mmm. Marsh.

The long walk out of Marin County showed me some changing landscape — from tiny, tony richy-rich towns along the bay to winding hills to a sketchy overpass bridge with a two-foot railing (nice) to a wildlife preserve. Some of the wildlife I saw just walking today (and maybe would see every day if moving through life at 3 miles per hour) included sheep, cows, jackrabbits hopping alongside the road, deer, red & black hawks overhead and some squeaky orange and black birds I would call an oriole if I wasn’t 3,000 miles from Baltimore. There was the roadkill too. The wildest of all seems to be attached to the balls of my feet. I didn’t name them yet, but I think there’s a heartbeat in them blisters after 17 miles. The pictures were sent directly to the Journal of Medicine for science learning purposes. And now a well-deserved sink bath inside Denny’s, a PB&J sandwich and slumber in a Motel 6 parking lot.


Stand the test of time? At least tourists had fun with my footprints while it lasted.

Crossing the Golden Gate Bridge on a Saturday afternoon, I was cursing the old Southern scribe and his sarcastic mustache, he of the “coldest winter I ever spent.” It was c-c-cold. That smarmy riverboat pilot nailed it and I could hear him whistle-laughing through that ridiculous flavor saver as I trudged across, an hour into my walk, shivering past the mass of cyclists and pedestrians paying tribute to the old Golden Lady. Of course, the night before, I thought I was going to head due east from Tiernan’s Pub (my launching pint, I mean “point”) until a friend kindly pointed out the Bay Bridge is closed to walkers. A solid, if ceremonial, first day of 9 miles, beyond Sausalito. I did leave something behind at Tiernan’s — chalk outlining my footprints — something the passersby had a little fun with. Hey it ain’t Grauman’s Chinese Theater, but we’re far from Hollywood indeed.

Owen and Alex Wood are ready to raise the roof on this walkabout.

En route to San Francisco, on the eve of D-Day (as in Departure), my thoughts are already with some of the wonderful people with whom I’ve spent time just getting here — Jesse at Fastsigns in Hollywood, who tatted up the man van while reciting quotes from “The Warriors”; John and Louisa Wood, dear old friends who opened up their Santa Barbara home (and a bottle of Bushmills) for a much-needed night of R&R before the big push; and Liam Tiernan, another old friend who offered up his Tiernan’s Pub on Fisherman’s Wharf for a fitting starting point (“Slainte!” my good man). I’ll carry their through the barren stretches. Like the Warriors’ Cyrus, “I say the future is ours.”

Leaving Tiernan's at noon. (or 12:15. Always time for a pint.)

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