December 2011

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Go, Team: The work to build the Onny and Oboe Fund continues tonight.

“Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.”
~Henry David Thoreau

The Silly Walk blues on tap at Paddy Whack's.

A man occupies his mind with much as he walks. He even begins sentences in his head with “Me thinks …” But I know what HDT was getting at. Amid an eight-hour walk (after the day prior’s eight-hour walk) you’re bound to repeat some of the same thought topics as yesterday … and last week. I can’t count the number of times I’d considered my finish — what the beach would look like, who might be there, how it’ll feel to halt. Maybe I’d just roll my baby jogger into the sea, look around and ask “what’s next?” I practiced my response to the inevitable TV interviewer: “Hey Mikey Walks, you just walked across the country. What are you going to do now?” Then I saw the Music Pier in Ocean City, NJ, on my last stretch of land to trod and I couldn’t remember a word of it. Something about “taking a few days with my baby (my wife Brooke), kicking back with my feet up (on a tropical island) and getting drunk (Hello, tiki bar). Then, it’ll be time to get back to work building the scholarship fund.” That’s what I might’ve told the gushing camera crews on the beach, had there been any. In the end, I was relieved there weren’t. And not just because I couldn’t recall my silly, planned diatribe.

It takes a borough to build a scholarship fund.

Since when did I plan ahead more than a few days anyway. It wasn’t a hackneyed pitch and red pen route that got me across the country on foot. It was a willingness to let go; a want to be led by forces bigger than my little world. The week following my finish was a stark reminder to heed the lessons learned out there in eight-hour thought sessions. Let go. Be in the moment. Plans are fine, but those forces are going to shake ‘em like a snow globe. Soon after I checked into Chez Hatfield (my sister’s house), my body did a six-month exhale and I got sick, as if to say “if we’re going to rest now, we’re really going to rest.” There would be no tropical island, no revelry, no whisking away my woman in heroic fashion. I was laying prostrate before the tissue box and Nyquil by Christmas morning. Things change. The road turns. And that’s OK. Because the really important part of my silly planned quote might have sounded an afterthought: “… then it’ll be time to get back to work building the scholarship fund.”

Gave that philanthropic dog a bone.

Tonight, that work continues in earnest, at the first Mikey Walks *Fun*raiser in Northeast Philadelphia (CLICK HERE FOR DETAILS). The walk was but the beginning, the first steps in a much broader journey. Me thinks this is bigger than my little world.

 

 

Hey guys, I can accept rides now.

A banner night for Onny & Oboe: Put the "fun" in fundraiser on Friday, Dec. 30.

Channel your inner-Cleese to win $$$ in our Silly Walk contest.

The size 11s have been lifted to the rafters. Coogs the cart is in dry dock. The moisture-wicking wardrobe spin cycle. While the walk to Ocean City may have ended, the journey to fund the Onny and Oboe Scholarship Fund is just beginning, the families that will be empowered still fighting. Please join us on Friday, Dec. 30 (from 8 to 11 p.m.) at Paddy Whack’s in Northeast Philadelphia for a night of celebration & cheer, shiny things & silly walks in commemoration of the Walk Across America. All proceeds will go directly to the Onny and Oboe Scholarship Fund, providing the families of heart transplant patients with a second chance to pursue their dreams. Wear your well-worn walking shoes. Prepare a “silly walk” for a cash contest. Play tickle and chase. It’s all good, and all in the playful spirit of Onny and Oboe. A $40 cover charge includes all-you-can-eat buffet; beer, wine and soda at our private bar (cash bar for the stiffer stuff); door prizes, raffles, baskets and shiny surprises; DJ and dancing; a special appearance by “Coogs”; Siamese acrobats in Cosby sweaters; and much, much more. Bring some extra cash to partake in the contests and bid on the take-home treasures.

Who wants to wait till 2012 to "bring it" (in worn-out shoes)?

Paddy Whacks is located at 9241-43 Roosevelt Blvd., Philadelphia, PA 19114 (215.464.7544). We will have a private room downstairs. You can peep their website here. For those traveling from far and wide (people after my own heart), there is a Sheraton and Roosevelt Hotel located within a half-mile (or a preferred 10-minute walk!). All ages welcome! Bring your friends, your family, your allies and your mates.

We will need to compile an accurate head count by Wednesday, Dec. 28. I know it’s short notice, but the road can be a fickle, winding, enthralling guide that turns on a whim and stokes the spirit. Trust it. Put the wraps on the holiday season with a gift that keeps on giving. Start the New Year on a righteous road. Please RSVP to either mikeytwalks@gmail.com or brookeryan.tittinger@gmail.com. You can pay $40 at the door or online through PayPal (Please add $1.50 per ticket for “PayPal’s take”).





From all of us at Mikey Walks (because no one walks alone), we thank you for your continued support, we wish you the best of holiday seasons and we look forward to meeting up along the road to Paddy Whack’s.

Child transporter, Walk across America gear carrier or mobile beer cart? The walk to Paddy Whacks is lined with dreams and Yuenglings.

The excitement was palpable heading into Ocean City, final stop on the walk across America.

Words fall short of conveying the feelings that crashed over me, like the Atlantic to my left, as our spontaneous parade climbed the ramp to the Ocean City Boardwalk. With a police escort out front, the fabled Music Pier — the Walk Across America’s endpoint — loomed larger each step. The continent’s edge; where Deanna left this earth amid the waves and seagulls overhead, my only company that late December day in 2000 when I spread her ashes. It was cold that day; gray and freezing. I couldn’t stop shaking. Not this day. The sun shone over a cloudless sky, its guiding warmth belying the 40-degree temperatures. Along the final 14 miles, I was reunited with my beautiful Brooke, and joined by family and friends as we headed for Somers Point and prepared for the final push into O.C. Before we’d reached the Ocean Avenue Bridge, a fleet of police cars greeted us, providing escort into the city where this whole odyssey began a decade ago. Our parade streamed down Wesley Avenue, a joyous celebration of walkers united in spirit and love.

Retracing my (final) step: The Jersey shoreline was time for remembrance, reflection and celebration.

I’d often thought about the finish line these past six months, approaching it at a 3 m.p.h.-clip for six months, but never wanted a planned outcome. It would unfold naturally, as the road always seemed to for 3,500 miles. But this was more than I’d ever imagined. On the Boardwalk, the others fell back, leaving me to walk alone once more. It was then that it all made sense. Everything made sense, this whole leap of faith I’d taken and asked everyone around me to take. A plunge into the unknown. I was feeling complete in a way I hadn’t in years. The emotions poured out of me at the water line as we remembered Deanna, then traced my footprints for the “Final Step” in celebration. There was just one thing left to do. The healing waters before us were borderline freezing, but it had to be done. The polar plunge! Flanked by my nephews, we ran into the Atlantic Ocean with racing hearts and joyous smiles.

Returned: A shell of Deanna's and handwritten note left for the universe.

Overhead, the seagulls cawed and set out toward the deep blue ocean. A world away.

Healing waters: Friends don't let friends (or nephews) polar plunge alone.

With a few thousand miles ahead, it would have been easy to feel alone. I didn't.

Today, we storm the beach. Walking the Black Horse Pike, the 322 and the state 50 (there’s that number again) on a gray winter’s day through south Jersey, I was reminded of something my friend Kevin wrote me last week. “We are here, you just don’t see us because we are all behind you.” It summed up everything about walking the past 3,486 miles, from Fisherman’s Wharf to the Music Pier. The daily words of encouragement, the e-mails, the tweets, the simplest of texts … they meant everything during the hardest stretches of open road; of endless road. I hung onto them like buoys in a storm. Some days they were the only communication I had before bedding down in a tent on a nameless road, seemingly alone. Remarkably (or maybe not so, given the magic of these six months), the messages would come from someone different each day — my wife, a friend, a nephew, even someone I had met two towns back. Setting forth, there was a want to be alone, a need to rebuild self-confidence and a desire for simple self-sufficiency. There was much to prove. To myself. But it didn’t take long to discover that this journey was no solo undertaking. It was the most collaborative effort with which I’ve been involved. The Onny and Oboe Fund is being built on the backs of all those who connected (and re-connected) since June 18 — exactly six months ago. And while this walk may conclude today in Ocean City, this was no finite race. The steps that have worn through seven pairs of sneakers were a beginning, not an end. And we march forward together, the hundreds of donors, family and friends (new and old) alongside the future recipients of this scholarship fund. Us dreamers united.
Today, WE storm the beach.

Jersey Girl: Down the shore, everything's all right ...

So after about 3,500 miles, the lion’s share spent on and around Route 50, it has come to this — three more days of walking. A long weekend. A scout’s honor signal. These days three, ‘ere the other side we see. Stopping for the night in Blackwood, New Jersey, after crossing my final state border, there’s that number again. 50 … Fifty states. Fifty lives a donor can change. It’s fifty miles to the beach and fifty miles of making up songs to keep my mind occupied. When I realized I’d left my phone charger “cube” back at the hotel, it was a good 20 minutes of channeling Tony Bennett for “I Left My Cube in Philadelphia.” As I caught a glimpse of the Howard Johnson on the hill, signaling an end to my rain-soaked walk, my inner Lizard King was wriggling to the bluesy “Mr. HoJo Risin’.” As I told a friend today, here in the flat Garden State, only the mental mountains remain. But even they have been tempered for weeks, with 50 friends and family members emerging alongside the road to walk with me, to donate, to shake hands and offer encouragement. I’ve heard from my first kindergarten friend, my first girlfriend, my first co-workers. The miles have never been so easy, even as they pile up on the ticker behind me.

Fox Chase revisited: Eddie and his son kept the walk on track amid all the surprise cameos.

The day began in Olde City Philadelphia, where our founders took their first steps as Americans, and led me and Coogs over the Ben Franklin Bridge and into New Jersey, last stop. Descending the 42 metal steps from the bridge (the Philly side has a ramp for non-homeless cart pushers), I was at Rutgers University staring down a looooong walk through the river city. The warnings came right away: “Don’t be walking around here at night,” “Head as far south as you can,” “Let the police know you’re walking through.” Well, it was one last big city between me and the beach. After Camden, I expect to see flatlands, pine needles and traffic circles as one small town blends into the next. Walking south on Mt. Ephraim Avenue, past the cemeteries and “Liquoramas,” I found myself puffing my arms out wide, as if to appear bigger. As if I’d encountered a bear. It was silly. I dropped my inflated guard and kept rolling. Nothing would touch me this day, these last days. I’d approached the areas I hadn’t seen before with optimism and Beginner’s Mind, from California to Gettysburg. It made no sense to fear the places with which I was familiar. I’ll just sing a happy tune. Or make one up.

Olde City, Philadelphia.

Camden wasn't going to make the Garden State entry easy.

Mmm, Salmon Beer. The tastes of home.

It’s a funny place, this Pennsylvania is. A few days ago I was asking directions of a hunter (hopefully, a hunter) carrying a shotgun down the middle of a residential street. The orange vests blurred into Amish shirts with hook buttons (no zippers!), the buggy beards faded into urban chinstraps. There’s a new perspective having arrived in my native Philly via two feet and six months of methodical, bi-pedal transition. Sitting outside a Wawa, eating a hoagie and “tapping a MAC” machine seemed new, like a refreshing glass of black cherry wishniak. The eclectic names of towns and rivers owing their origins to Native Americans, Pennsylvania Dutch and the Welsh left a dyslexic mishmash of pronunciation-challenged, sign-stretching locales that must have had cartographers thinking they should have stayed in cobbler school. Worcester, Susquehanna, Schuylkill, Schwenksville, Nockamixon. Sitting with friends at dinner last night, I was struck by their accents in this funny place. You can home again, just like the first time.

Can't harsh this buzz, walking Liberty Town.

Evidently, we still have a long way to go.

Along the banks of the Perkiomen Creek, I still hadn't found what I was looking for.

"Bob told me to catch up to you ... and take the checkbook."

I sat a spell and watched the lifeless house. My own reaction surprised me. I had none. It’d been stripped: blinds open, a backyard devoid of belongings, the driveway empty asphalt. A shell of a house, no longer a home. I’m not sure what I expected to find, but I soon stopped looking. There was no “there” there anymore. The life, the love that once filled that house … its walls no longer spoke. She wasn’t there. No, Deanna was just around the corner, where nephew Chris rolled up with lunch after high school. She was on Maple Drive, back in Harleysville, where Donna flagged me down. “My husband (Bob) called and said, ‘You’ll never believe who I just saw,'” she told me, a donation check and bottled water in hand. “We saw you yesterday in Phoenixville … You’re going the wrong way to New Jersey.” And she waits for me on the road tomorrow, to Northeast Philadelphia, where childhood friends and long-lost cousins are ready to take up the cause. She is on a beach in New Jersey, where my beautiful Brooke, my family and friends will celebrate life and recall one that inspires a decade beyond its own finish line. But she’s not at the modest townhouse in Telford we shared. There is nothing for me there anymore. As I walked away from 149 Thomas Drive, I put my hand to heart, and beneath the envelope of donation checks from friends old and new, I found what it was I came looking for.

Frost nixing: Jagged reminders that walking season is ending along the Perkiomen Trail.

Chris makes time to Tebow in Telford.

Steve and Taylor brought the Vipers' winning ways to the Chester County trail.

You still walking?

Surreal is the word I come back to — sleeping at my parents house, a lunar eclipse doing its eclipsing out yonder. So many nights so far from home, I’d camp outside and stare up at that Man in the Moon (he and Coogs my only company), dreaming about an East Coast finish line filed under “some day.” Now that line has a date — Sunday, June 18. “You’re probably not taking days off now. You’re close enough to taste it,” said my cousin Steve, who emerged with daughter Taylor, just east of Coatesville. Taylor’s soccer team had raised donations for the Onny and Oboe Fund by doing what they do best — scoring goals — 36 of ‘em to be exact. The days are beginning to blur, the miles never easier as friends and family join me this final week of a six-month odyssey. There was Aunt Eileen, who steered me from York through Lancaster County with grace and dignity, even as I locked myself out of my room in my underwear at 2 a.m. There were cousins Steve and Taylor, and Michael and fiancee Theresa, the latter opening their home, baking me cookies and keeping their nibbling cat at bay.

Three for the road: Brian, Mark and Jay took turns having their way with Coogs.

By Sunday, I’d found myself east of Exton; Philadelphia a short jaunt away (or two days’ walk in my world). The scenery along Pickering Creek and Collegeville Road looked familiar, taking me back and taking me home. “Hey, where are you?” asked my buddy Brian. “We’re on our way.” Soon after the day began, three childhood buddies — Brian, Jason and Mark — were alongside me, hugging the Route 29 shoulder and pushing Coogs (they say I walk too fast with my cart, so they don’t let me push it) into Montgomery County. A few hours later, a familiar face on a motorcycle — brother-in-law Barry beeped from his Gold Wing while out for a Sunday cruise. By this time, the day was slipping away. We parted as I planned to shoot for Skippack, another 7 or 8 miles away. I made it 7 or 8 steps before my phone rang … brother Brian wanted to buy me dinner. Yeah, well. More miles tomorrow. Or not. It’s the road that dictates. I’m just along for the ride. As surreal as it all seems to be.

The Schuylkill River runs deep in and around the Philadelphia region. Six months in, it's all water under the bridge.

Mom and Dad Walks (.com) had the Christmas decorations up and the guest bed ready.

Amish-in-Hand: The college maintenance crew dealt the chicken in Bird-in-Hand and worked on my soul-stealing ways.

This shoulder ain't big enough for the two of us.

Playing chicken with Amish horse buggies (and sidestepping the road apples left behind) kept me on my toes through Lancaster County. “Just walk through it. They do,” said Michael, one of three Lancaster Bible College workers who brought me lunch — a Chick-Fil-A sandwich in Bird-in-Hand, Pennsylvania. As I shook the fresh fertilizer from my Nikes, I mentioned that the woman I shot a picture of wasn’t having it. “Yeah, they’re against photographs,” said Steve. “You stole her soul by taking that picture.” Nice. These guys were having fun at my expense, but now I felt bad walking into the Amish world like a rookie, and well, stealing souls. I was getting the stink-eye before I even made it to Intercourse. (Who hasn’t said that on a Friday afternoon?) There are also Amish towns nearby called Paradise and Blue Ball, but I highly doubt there is a “Little Tits, PA,” as they were trying to sell me. When FOX 43’s Trang Do asked what I think about when walking all day, I replied “I think about the people — those I’m trying to help and all those who’ve helped me.” I’d also taken pride in leaving a light footprint and trying to ingratiate myself with the locals wherever I landed. I didn’t want to be stealing souls.

As the afternoon slipped away, I found myself on a series of quiet back roads along the Amish farmlands of Irishtown, where cars were outnumbered by buggies and scooter-bikes. It was dusk and local growers were closing shop and sweeping out their barns, putting the wraps on a long week as a full moon began to emerge in the sky. The deeper I walked, the more friendly the exchanges. Maybe I even earned some respect using my own two feet to travel these roads, pushing a non-mechanical cart. My camera stayed in my pocket. My favorite moment of the day was when a teenager approached from the opposite direction, pushing his little brother along in their scooter-bike (a bike with no chain, gears or pedals). We gave each other a smile and proceeded on, then both stopped to look back at the other, intrigued by the mode of transport and the divergent journey of the day. No words were spoken. No pictures taken. Just a moment in time somewhere short of Paradise.

Irishtown, PA, at dusk.

Three for the road: Aunt Eileen's surprise visit kept the walk rolling from York to Gap.

Everyone has a secret Christmas wish. You just have to listen carefully.

New Oxford, PA

I got the first rush of Christmas spirit near Jefferson City, Missouri. Walking along a ridgeline outside the capital city, I got caught in the dark on a chilly October night. One house had lights strung across its porch. But that wasn’t what did it. It was the smoke billowing out of chimneys as I propped up my fleece collar. The warmth inside, and the chill outside, made me long for Jimmy Stewart movies and wet boots at the door and a comfy chair by a fireplace somewhere in southeast Pennsylvania. The only glitch? It wasn’t even Hallowe’en yet. I still had well over a thousand miles to walk and anyone whistling a Christmas tune then could justifiably be beaten with a yule log. But it was a glimmer. While I hadn’t even crossed the MIssissippi, the finish line was closer than the start. Being home by Christmas had always been a goal. The lights and the fireplaces symbolized hitting the next ocean, parking Coogs in the garage and propping up my feet in some re-gifted slipper socks. It was still a month before we could officially pepper-spray each other in the face on Black Friday, but I was already feeling the love.

Gettysburg, PA

Marley’s Ghost never showed that night and by the next day the leaves and mild temps returned me to autumn. Now, it really is Christmastime. Crossing central Pennsylvania, it’s one Old World town after another, with preposterously old houses built too close to modern streets decked out like “Wonderful Life’s” Bedford Falls — Gettysburg, Chambersburg, New Oxford, Abbotstown and, of course, Bedford (PA). The decision to skip Harrisburg for this run of small towns was a no-brainer. I’ve always been a sucker for the schmaltz of Christmas culture, but never before Thanksgiving. And certainly not before Hallowe’en. But this year is different. Christmas = home = a reunion with those I love. So let the lights shine, the carols play ad nauseum and the fireplaces burn. Teacher says every time a bell rings, these shoes here get some springs.

Tonight’s forecast: 1-3 inches of snow. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire …”

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