October 2011

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The only way to survive hard time is recall views like that outside my Shoals cabin. "Hope is maybe the best of things, Red."

Actor's re-enactment of the Mikey Walks mugshot.

Oh, the places I’ll go to spread word of the Onny and Oboe Scholarship. On Thursday, it was the Daviess County jail. To speak to prisoners? Not so much. After leaving Washington and walking through some heavy construction along a perilous portion of the 50, it was a relief to get through the orange cones and find a wide shoulder again. The relief was short-lived when the sheriff’s department joined the party. Seems I was at the wrong bush at the wrong time. I smiled, knowing I’d been got, even admitted to the deed in a conversational way. Here comes a tsk-tsk “Keep moving and don’t do that again”; maybe even a ticket. Five minutes later, I was sitting in handcuffs, being driven to the police station, with Coogs in the back of another SUV off to baby jogger jail. No passing GO without the county collecting 200 bucks. Sitting in the station — my coats, cameras and shoes in a plastic bin (for fear I’d hang myself) before me — I thought back to the week prior, when two separate donors gave me $100 apiece (the exact amount of my bond) to use towards walk expenses. They probably didn’t foresee it going to pave county roads or shellack the fair dunk tank, but it did keep the walk on track (after being escorted to the county line).

My possessions in a bucket before me, I considered the padded cell and thought I'd probably camped in weirder.

My head spinning, I trudged up into the hills around Shoals to the Overlook Rental cabins, where I met Marie, a spark plug in work gloves. She entertained me with local stories of the Archer Brother bandits, horseback train robberies (invented right here!), local NASA hero Gus Grissom and pulling the colorful leaves off trees for a Hollywood production. And this was just in the first 20 minutes. Once alone in the cabin, I tried to gleam the lesson of the day. For the truth most certainly did not set me free. I walked out back of the cabin at dusk to take in the majestic view of the White River and red-leafed valley below. There before me were three deer, who calmly remained despite the sight of me. They moseyed up to the salt lick in turns and took in the Martin Forest panorama as well. We shared a moment. My worries set with the sun. Tomorrow would allow me to walk it off and enter yet another new world. Each day its own journey. Beyond every mountain lies a miracle.

Did that really just happen?

Marie helped take the edge off with local lore and killer view.

“Let’s stick it in the bucket.” Michael Johnson and his ILDOT crew roll up their sleeves to get me and Coogs across their trench on Old Route 50 east of Breese. I didn’t even have to answer these questions three, ere the other side he see. Easy Breesey.

The sun set on my time in Illinois so soon, I hardly had time to look back.

Accept no imitations: In Salem, the Coon Dog Championships had everyone looking over their shoulders.

Approaching the Wabash River (and Indiana border), I took a seat under the watchful eye of Honest Abe to rest my bones and nod to the walking gods, appreciating the wonderful eight days I spent trekking through the Land of Lincoln. It seemed too fast (Kansas, didn’t you take a month?). Where crossing state lines was once a rush to celebrate, the dwindling few slow my roll … In the Midwest, Route 50 now bypasses many of the small towns that made it “the backbone of America.” I try and follow the Old Route 50 into each, reminded of the movie “Cars” and how our rush “to get there” has killed off what made us unique. Here’s to every Radiator Springs along the way … Speaking with USC students the other night about their planned cross-country climbing trip made me feel like a wily veteran at all this, and smile thinking of all the best laid plans that go astray … As I planned to leave St. Louis, I was faced with heading north of the 50 and hitting bigger cities (and media markets) or continuing along the 50, rich with small towns and beautiful simplicity. Choosing the latter was soup for the walker’s soul … Sitting by Lincoln’s statue before the Indiana border, my phone’s time changed. I had no idea the eastern time zone began here. Not that I’m complaining — light later in the day is what Tittinger Time is all about.

Let's be Civil: That Lincoln guy is never far away in Illinois. A little creepy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Look for the white squirrels of Olney when you stay at The Holiday. Or just buy a t-shirt.

Thank you to Julie, Phyllis, Misty and the whole staff at The Holiday in Olney, Illinois, for providing an awesome night free from worry (including where dinner would come from, where breakfast would come from, and where the white squirrels run wild). They went above and beyond, as they will for you. (CLICK HERE)

Crossed over the Wabash River into Indiana tonight (“night” because it was Eastern time zone. Totally thought that was in Ohio). Everywhere are signs and streets and businesses named for William Henry Harrison, the former president. All I remember from grade school was “Tippecanoe and Tyler too”, his election slogan, and that he died in office after just 32 days. But then I also remembered “Drunk History”, which is a pretty hilarious history lesson. It’s probably not for everyone, but if you like historical humor (and who doesn’t?) … make it to the snakes and leeches and ye shall be rewarded.

Fear takes a holiday: For every mountain of worry theres a lake for reflection.

When the IGA ran out of sunscreen, Matt had some brought from home.

“Aren’t you afraid out there?”
“Of being alone?”
“No, of other people.”
Jessica in Clay City isn’t alone. I’m asked about the problems I face — not with wild animals, or desert heat, or nature’s fury — but from those who travel the nation’s highways. And every time I report with great relief that people have helped at every stop, there is a look of skepticism in their eyes. I rolled into Clay City with a flat tire hoping there was a mechanic on hand. “We don’t do that anymore,” said Jessica, “but you should call Robert. It’s his day off, but he’ll probably help you. He’s a great kid.” When I first called Robert, he was out of town. That’s when Jessica asked the fear question. When she handed me my change the phone rang. “Where are you?” asked Robert. “I’ll come back and help you out.” The people I’ve met along the 50 in Illinois were among the friendliest, most charming and trusting in the country, so it surprises me when they’re wary of those in the city, or the next town, or on the other side of the tracks. “Well, I guess people in small towns like this are usually OK,” a woman at the Bridgeport Subway said today. “But there’s some real lousy people out there.” The closer I get to the finish line and the more miles behind me, it seems the more I’m asked if I get scared. Be it naive optimism, blind faith or a Mr. Magoo view of the world, I don’t anymore. I know it’s going to be OK. There’s been reinforcement from the countless people I’ve crossed paths with out there. Like Jessica. Like Robert. Like that Subway lady, who said she’d pray for my safe travels. What’s to fear?

You picked a fine time to leave me, loose wheel.

Gauge (she has a twin brother Gunner) was super excited about the walk.

Some days, I wish I was having deeper thoughts than singing along with these guys.

Money over my hammy: The ladies of Denny's in Salem made the most important meal of the day the best of the week.

No sidewalks, no lights and no worries

If man plans and God laughs, the Lion of the Tribe must be roaring at me.
The plan was pretty solid. 26 miles to Flora. 8 hours, 40 minutes of walking. Throw in a 45-minute break and I should be strolling into town by 6 p.m., with 11 minutes of daylight to spare (just to be safe). If I don’t have to stop for any extraordinary bathroom breaks or get pulled over for Amber Alerts, I should be fine hitting the snooze button one more time. Welcome to what friends and family affectionately call “Tittinger Time.” I planned to go easy on the coffee at Denny’s and vamoose, but it was there, to my joyful surprise, that the owners made a generous donation to the Onny and Oboe Fund. We talked about the walk and posed for pictures to send the local newspaper. Sweet! Then it was off for Flora. The wind would be at my back. I knew it every time I heard a “Howdy” or “How ya doin’, t’day?” from the good people of Marion and Clay counties this fine Saturday. There was Max, 80, out getting his mail; a heart surgery patient at 28, he said he feels better today. In Xenia (population 450), there were the locals firing away with questions, and along Old Route 50, the little boy playing with his dogs who yelled “Hey” to get my attention, then just stand there and wave excitedly, over and over. He was too cute not to take some time and engage. So it was getting dark, big deal. It was just a mile to the Flora Motel, and a van of teens just pulled over to talk and make a donation. By the time I rolled up to the hotel I was feeling great about the day, so I chatted up Crystal and Morgan in the parking lot. They promised to pray for my safe travels. I assured them I’d be fine tonight. The hotel sign was just 50 feet away. We said our good-byes and I rolled Coogs up to the office door. “They aren’t there,” a man’s voice said. “Sorry, bud.” The sign on the door said “Closed”, yet half the rooms were rented. “Don’t know what to tell ya, bud,” he told me, as he sidled into his motel room. I sat on the little cement lawn ornament (a mushroom or something) and gathered myself for the next push. Next motel, 2 miles. Everything in its own time. The light of the Illini would guide me.

Betwitching Salem, IL, on a weekend afternoon.

"I'm not sure why I'm still here, but I'm still here," said Max, 80, born with an aortic valve defect. "I feel better now than I did at 18."

Lunch Bucket: DOT called in heavy machinery to keep me and Coogs on track.

Phil isn't above strong-arming friends for a cause, or riding a sidecar.

“He’s walking across America. Give him five bucks!” I laughed each time Phil, a retired Ford Motors mechanic in Breese, greeted his friends at PJ’s Diner on Thursday. “Give him five bucks,” he cajoled them. “I did.” Standing at the door with his cane, he eyed the approaching lunch crowd. “I need to bring you along with me,” I told him. “Maybe we can put a sidecar on Coogs.” Meanwhile, Penny, my waitress, was calling the owner of the diner to let her know about the walker. Five minutes later, Pam Staser was at my booth, picking up my ticket and making a generous donation. I’d walked less than a mile, but I was having a good time with the Clinton County locals. I was having fun. And why not? The sun had reemerged after a three-day absence and I got to walk all day, my biggest concerns being how many layers to wear and how many cool people I’d meet. It wasn’t always this way. Two days earlier, I was feeling the weight of expectations (my own), the effects of 2,000 miles and the loneliness of being far, far from home. I was wearing the woe like a Halloween mask. “Have fun,” Liz called out this week, as she ran back to her car. The PE teacher and fellow Phillies fan stopped me to write down her favorite Bible quote as inspiration. Fun? I’d just walked six hours in the rain. She was the third person to tell me to have fun that day. On Wednesday, it was raining even harder as I stared down a 22-mile leg to Breese. I could hide inside a faceless hotel room or manifest my inner-child, and play in the rain (all day!). At the end of the trail, there were Matt and Laurie at the Knotty Pine bar, telling me I “couldn’t have landed in a better place (than Clinton County).” We toasted their upcoming baby (she drank pop) and cheered on the Cardinals (Hey, when in Cardinals country). By the time I left PJ’s on Thursday morning, I had that silly kind of grin you can’t wipe off your face, as I walked through a road closure barricade on Old Route 50. To detour would cost me an hour. With each subsequent warning sign, my confidence grew. Somehow. Some way. I’ll get through. I was feeling too good to turn tail now, and besides, this is part of the adventure. This’ll be fun. “Sorry, there’s a trench,” said Michael Johnson, of Illinois DOT. Then we talked about the walk and the Onny and Oboe Scholarship. “We’ll get you across.” Next thing I knew, Coogs was in the bucket of an excavator, 20 feet in the air, getting a free ride across said trench. Putting the fun back in this walkabout … consider that bridge crossed. Thanks, Illinois.

Pam, Penny and everyone at PJ's helped bring the fun before Thursday's walk even got started

Pizza and football talk with Josh made me feel at home in Beckemeyer.

With my wingman up ahead, I was king of the north St. Louis streets.

“I’m sure the closer we walk toward the river, the nicer it’ll get,” I said. My brother’s silence spoke volumes. More precisely, it said “Get ready to walk two hours through broken glass, abandoned homes and watch-your-a#@ blind corners.” Save two miles by walking across the McKinley Bridge into Illinois or save my skin crossing the Mississippi down by that big Arch. Save two miles, of course! I’d walked through the St. Louis U. campus and Grand past the arts district, enjoying the eclectic city. It was about to get a lot more eclectic. “You all right?” a couple guys asked. I didn’t think much of the question, but maybe it was a warning, as in “Hey guy in the sensible REI outerwear with a 17-inch sign on your back, you may not want to walk through north St. Louis.” I soldiered on, barely noticing that liquor stores had replaced the food joints, and then gutted A-frames had replaced the liquor stores. That’s when I remembered a conversation the day before with my friend Elise, who warned me about the north side of town as I worked on a Budweiser and watched the Eagles game. “Ah ha, she was right!” I thought with self-congratulation as I picked up the pace. Things did improve — above the river — walking the bridge into state No. 7 on Monday night. Two miles trimmed, the hard way.

Back on safe-footing (100 feet above the Mississippi), it was safe to make some Illi-noise.

Where'd she say not to walk?

This way looks good: Like L&C, our approach on the Mississippi took plans, guile and text messages.

Water at night. It’s always been a fascination. Whenever we vacation near an ocean, a lake, river, I’ll usually slip out of the room near the witching hour and make my way down to where the liquid meets the land. While I stood beside the Gateway Arch in St. Louis on Sunday night, after most tourists had scattered and locals tuned in the Cardinals, I had the illuminated Mississippi to myself. And it overwhelmed me some. The following day, I’d be crossing the fabled river of Twain and Lewis & Clark and Manifest Destiny and realized it may be the last of the true natural benchmarks on this journey east. There were the Sierra Nevadas, the high desert, the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains. Now, the Gateway. Already, the landscape reminds me of Pennsylvania, and while I still have another 1,000 miles to go, there is a sense of being there already. Prematurely. I know there will be more surprises ahead, more awe-inspiring views and humbling travels. Another waterway to take stock. The west, for now, has been deposited in the done bin and the east lies out ahead, beginning with this Land of Lincoln, for a thousand miles. Crossing the Mississippi was not an ending, but a new beginning.

And a river runs beside it, all night long.

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