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.
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.