November 2011

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All hands on deck: Some easy miles through Pittsburgh with family like niece Kylie) over Thanksgiving weekend.

RV = righteous vehicle.

Hard to express how thankful I am this day, one removed from Thanksgiving weekend. In Pittsburgh, a city I’d never visited, we made our makeshift home; “we” being this walker and the eight family members who spent their holiday driving to Pennsylvania and joining the walk across America. We soldiered on together, a rolling reunion, a gathering with purpose. For two weeks, there was Barry and the Jamb Van. But this weekend, he was joined by son, Barry, 20, my wingman for a 15-mile journey over the hills and across the bridges into Pittsburgh. We landed at Primanti Bros., hungry enough for a sandwich with fries shoved inside, and a table of 9 awaiting us at the renowned Steel City eatery.

Barry Bernardo hung tough for the calf-burning climb into Steel City.

On Saturday, there was a ten-mile walk along Penn Ave. through the city’s northern neighborhoods with sister-in-law Renee, followed by an afternoon session with brother Jim, nephews Jimmy and Shane, and niece Kylie (7 and a HALF!) as we headed for Turtle Creek. When they all ultimately departed for the east coast, it was hard to forge ahead, to regain my gameface. However, it’s not time to let up. Ahead are more than 300 miles and a chain of mountains to cross before the Atlantic. There’s still work to be done. Celebrations are premature. But for three days in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I was home.

 

 

After finding a cold water bottle left for me by the universe ...

... my niece wasn't the only one who was tuckered on the long road out of Pittsburgh.

Tin Man Goeth: The Smiths, in Pueblo, donated their 13-foot lawn ornament to a museum.

Showering in the McDonald’s parking lot, drinking coffee and watching the parade outside Wal*Mart, working the free wi-fi outside Panera Bread … I am thankful for the home we’ve made in this west Pittsburgh mall parking lot. Nuking Jimmy Dean sausages, we’ve got it all, pilgrim. Of course, we’re keeping our fingers crossed and sending good giblet vibes that our Jamb Van RV starts and we don’t have to walk 4 miles to the nearest gas station on a day off. Either way, it’s all good. It would be one more memory for the road, where few things go as planned and plans have become few. I am home. Thankful for all of those who’ve gotten me this far (more than I can count) and thankful for my family — trekking to Pittsburgh this Thanksgiving to spend it together. Home is where the heart is. It’s going to be “Off the Jazz” … like Sunkist. Ride the berms and stay off the aquaducts, friends. Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanks to my niece Kerry for her night class doodling.

Thankful for The Reporter in Lansdale, PA, and staff writer Brian Bingaman, who published a thoughtful Thanksgiving Day article (click here) today. Deanna and I met at and worked together at the newspaper in the late-1990s (she classified ads director, me a staff writer), and will always have a soft spot for the MontCo news leader.

If you don’t like the road you’re on, take a turn. And don’t look back. Get off the “freeway” and embrace that less traveled. Don’t fear what’s around the next bend, pursue it. It may not be the easiest route, but that you’ll least regret. Life isn’t point A to point B. It’s the spaces in between. It’s how you come out of the turns and how you take the hills. Your road is the right road.

— Steubenville Pike, west of Pittsburgh (11/23/11)

The Ohio River, we meet again. One last look back at Ohio while entering West Virginia, and tying up lunchtime traffic on the Veterans Memorial Bridge.

WTOV meteorologist Adam made me a sweet business card before our interview.

A tri-state trekker on this, Day 158 of the Walk Across America. One crazy, surreal, waterlogged, gratifying day on the trail. Breakfast in Ohio, lunch in West Virginia, dinner in Pennsylvania. The gray skies finally called my bluff, opening up at 10 a.m. and kept the spigot on till dark. I figured I’d only be in WV for a cup of coffee (about 6 miles), but it turned into a lunch at Mario’s in Weirton. When I came out of the bathroom, Barry and the waitresses were making the 92-year-old owner catch flying bags of potato chips. No idea what that was about. Three things to know about West Virginia — 1) “Cafe” really means small-time casino (learned that tidbit having to get buzzed in when I wanted a panini); 2) it rains all the time; 3) every road goes uphill, in every direction. OK, maybe two hours and change isn’t enough time to really assess a state. We laughed, we cried, but then it was time to bid adieu to the Mountaineer State. (And I know it’s cliche, but I really couldn’t help singing John Denver’s “Country Road” while walking through the WV). My home state was calling, and they rolled out the sodden carpet for me when I stepped into Paris, PA, at 4 o’clock amid a throng of cheering headstones (so I pretended). No “Welcome to Pennsylvania” signs on this stretch of asphalt to give me that three-state satisfaction, just a wet, winding road with no shoulder. “I thought I was only going to find a sneaker in the road,” Barry laughed. An understated entry, but it’s good to be home.

Lane closed due to a flash flood mob of one.

Thicker than water.

Forget the fire hydrant already. That's Pennsylvania out there.

Holy $#!*, I’m in Pennsylvania! Wedged here between the hometowns of Clark Gable and Dean Martin, there’s an old familiar feel (like fake teeth or a used martini glass). The West Virginia border sits about 4 miles away, the Pennsy perimeter another 8. This time tomorrow, I’ll be sleeping in my home state, staring down the mountains at the Keystone State (prematurely decorated for Christmas) — two weeks and a day after crossing into Ohio. It’s a blur ,,, at 3 miles per hour. A knowing in the universe this day, as I planned my exit strategy — the firm handshakes and deep stares, State Trooper Dee padding the Onny and Oboe Fund, the gray skies that never unloaded.

Exercising my right to bear arms with Dee on the 22.

I think about the people along the way, not the places and spaces between; the encounters unexpected, the old friends re-emerging, the new ones digging in. No one more so than brother-in-law Barry, who chose to spend his vacation manning the Jamb Van. He’s allowed me to ride shotgun when not tackling the mountains and state lines, making homes from parking lots and deserted campgrounds, from barroom alleys to farmhouse driveways. A wild ride inside an adventure wrapped up in a journey. “I wouldn’t have believed it if I wasn’t here seeing it,” he said about some of the road magic that’s greeted us. “It’s like a TV show.” We’ll always have Ohio.

A rolling Jamboree -- Beast of the East

"I'll pick you up in 16 ounces." Salty coffee, 45-degree angle showers, the Eagles game in HD in the woods. No bumps in this road with Barry at the helm.

To those who have questioned, inquired, and disbelieved that Mrs. Mikey Walks is a genuine supporter, allow me to shed some light on my position.

Being married to the one you love is exhilarating, and challenging. Having a supportive spouse allows you to self-reflect and share who you truly are with another person through the ups and downs of life. If any religion should be concerned with marriage, it is because it moves you into a position of spirituality by the pure nature of human relationships. In order for a marriage to work, both parties need to be dedicated not only to compromise in the relationship (peace-making), but working on what makes ourselves “peace-full.” You cannot be a good and functional spouse, parent or friend unless you, yourself, are fully happy, wholly satisfied and well.

It is through learning, self-reflecting, meditating, creating and serving others that I am able to find this peace. It is through connecting to nature, practicing yoga and focusing inward in meditation that I feel God’s presence. These activities and states of being enable me to feel peace and balance. When I pass up opportunities to connect with myself, all other aspects of my life suffer. Although, as humans, we are social beings, everything we need lies within ourselves.

Michael is creative, caring, determined and courageous. He is good on his word and doesn’t take no for an answer. He has intuition, guts and a sense of humor. Over the course of our marriage, his well-being was compromised by the lack of a balance. He did not complain, judge or feel sorry for himself, but his peacefulness suffered quietly behind unfinished business. I could sense it when we talked about the future, when he didn’t want to make plans. I could sense it when we talked about the past, when he had forgotten from where he came. I knew it when he seemed unsatisfied and frustrated with the projects he had done, and guilty for the ones he had not. Read the rest of this entry »

Chew on this: The painted barns on Rt. 40 proved an omen for good to follow.

Mike Devlin and Dreamy, of Florida, heard about the walk in LA. Then spotted us in Ohio.

Somewhere between Zanesville, a town named for a writer (Zane Grey) and New Concord, a town made famous by an astronaut (John Glenn) there lies Spry Road. There in the dark Thursday night, I wasn’t feeling so, well, spry. The weather had turned. The autumn joys of leaf-carpeted paths and light sweater crispness had become hard Fall. Ohio is earth tones and hardened hills, football and roadhouses, leaf burnings and scrap metal drives. The November trees in central Ohio are now bare, its hills mud-caked beneath gray skies. As I stopped to retrieve my headlamp a white pickup truck pulled over. “Do you want to come over for hot soup?”

What empty nest? Sleep tight, Hoggy.

Walking to Zanesville that morning on 40 (“The National Road”), a bike path along the busy four-lane stretch provided a buffer from mostly indifferent drivers. Free to take in the countryside of burgeoning mountains, I was drawn to the rustic barns hanging tough from a century ago. Three had broad painted signs promoting “Mail Pouch Tobacco”, leftovers from a simpler time. I stopped to photograph them over and over. Meanwhile, Barry, was fretting where to park the Jamb Van (Jamboree Winnebego) for the night. The previous night we rolled in behind a bar and plugged into their outside wall outlet. We were tired, cold and a little ripe. Hot showers and electricity sounded nice, but the campground was closed.

Charged up and ready to roll for Cambridge.

Standing at the corner of Spry and 40, Doug waited for my answer. “Soup? I’d love some soup.” Barry and I rolled the Jamber a couple miles around the bend to the Brock estate, where goats roamed the rolling hills. Inside, Doug and Kathy shared their dinner, served up ice cream and offered their shower and washing machine as we swapped travel stories — walking, motorcycles, u-haul trailers on the Crookedest Street in San Francisco. Two hours later, we were watching basketball in the basement, munching on popcorn and beers, perfectly at home in our new friends’ company. Doug admitted he passes walkers all the time and never thinks to stop. But tonight he did. “With our daughter away at college, we’re bringing home strangers,” he joked. His extra bedroom now sleeps his Harley-Davidson over the winter. We said goodnight and retired to our RV in the driveway, since plugged into the Brock electric grid. Studying the picture I had taken of our friends at dinner, there was a painting in the background. It was done by Leslie Cope … of a barn. On the side it reads “Chew Mail Pouch Tobacco.” The road, it knows.

Delivered.

The answers came in the form of Kathy and Doug, and the Leslie Cope painting behind them.

“CALL”

I’m leavin’ west
Headin’ back east
Taking this time
To learn how to breathe

For a free mp3 of Matthew Quinet's "Call", written exclusively for mikeywalks.com and the Onny and Oboe Scholarship Fund, use the "contact me" tab above. (Click on image for more music from Matthew Quinet)

I heard a call
Something inside
Telling me to go
It was you on the line

Now I’m walkin’ it off
I’m clearin’ the way
So people like you
Can be here today.

I’m leavin’ west
Headed back east
Makin’ amends
Settiin’ us free

I heard a call
So I picked it up
Put my foot down
Then raised it for love

Now I’m walkin’ it right.
I’m clearin’ the way.
So people like you
Can be here today

I’m leavin’ west
Headin’ back east
Knowin’ not who
Or what I will meet

I’ll need your voice
When the struggle begins
When the pain starts to pound
When the rain checks my chin.

I heard a call
When I thought I was fine
Tellin’ me to move
It was you all the time

Now I’m walkin’ it through
I’m clearin’ the way
So people like you
Can be here today.

Yeah, I’m walkin’ it through
And I don’t need to pray
Because I have your light
To show me the way…

“What is that for? Do you know?”
— Man on bicycle, alluding to Mikeywalks.com sign on my back.

Signing on: Barry's first fix was the weathered Mikey Walks calling card.

Sitting in a trailer park when the tornado warnings came over the TV, my first thought was bemusement. That it could end like this. Is there a more stereotypical place to be than a RV in a tornado? “If the siren goes off,” warned the manager, “run into my storm shelter.” Where was that again? Does the cow fly by first or the trailer top rip open? The RV listed from side to side in the wind, while rain pounded our 1984 Jamboree. My second thought was this journey ain’t over. Ohio’s been reminding me a whole lot of Pennsylvania — Yuengling on tap, sandwiches are “hoagies”, the people have some ‘tude — but I have to fight the temptation to celebrate too soon. For the climber who lifts his arms in triumph falls to great depths. (Right, Confucious?) No matter that my friends and family are within driving distance, the road is still long.

How do we run to the basement of our RV?

“In the event of a tornado, and there is no shelter, lie in a ditch or depression,” the reporter advised. There would be some depression all right, if I were out camping and Barry hadn’t made that drive from Philly in the Jamb Van. Talking to Brooke on the phone Tuesday, a woman driver nearly ended the walk across America by exiting a strip mall without looking. Brooke was just saying how long it had been since she “saw my face.” Could have been a lot longer. “I’d have to finish the walk,” she considered. “It’ll be a tribute to a tribute.” Now that would be a story.

Still PC? The Holy Grail of endangered lawn ornaments -- the black jockey.

The After shot: Three days and 60 miles later, Jay and Brian had made peace with the road.

"All right, nice view. Let's walk. Chop chop, misters."

Sleeping in a haunted mansion last week, the owner’s remark that “you may not find the spirits, but they will find you” rattled its chains around in my noggin. I went to sleep with that in mind, well, until around 6 a.m. anyway. The phone rang. It was my friend Jason from Philadelphia. Maybe he was confused about time zones. It rang again. This time, my buddy Brian. The ghoulish thoughts still fresh, “someone must be dead” I thought. Hello? “Dude, you gonna open the door and let us in?” Huh? Quit messing with my dream. “We’re on the porch.” I opened my eyes and realized they weren’t kidding. They were on the porch with a sack of Egg McMuffins after driving all night to meet up with me in Waynesville, Ohio, and join the walk for a few days. The two snored on my B&B floor a couple hours and were good to go. We left the car behind as they planned to walk the whole stretch (the 40-pound backpacks would have to go) and we headed toward Columbus. They had found me, these two ghosts from my past.

Now that's a support vehicle.

On Saturday, amid a 27-mile marathon on the Prairie Grass Trail, we passed only a handful of bikers all day. With daylight waning, a familiar black SUV pulled up on the road — the lone stretch where the path was visible from route 42. We’d met the driver, Jack Little, the previous day. He was back with his wife Carolyn after having read the website. “We’re so glad we found you,” he said. “We’ve been driving around for four hours looking for you.” Slated for surgery on Monday, Jack, and his better half wanted to lend a helping hand to the Onny and Oboe Fund. “We were just about to give up and head home when we found you.” On Sunday, as Jason, Brian and I sat outside a West Jefferson gas station tending to our sore paws, a Winnebago with “Mikeywalks.com” scrawled across its windows rolled into the lot. My brother-in-law Barry had arrived from southeast Pennsylvania, ready to help with the next leg. He hadn’t stopped to eat all day. “Well, I knew it would be getting dark, and I never would have found you.”

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