While reading the “Uphill Road to Grace: Some Pilgrimages” from our assigned text Wanderlust I began to wonder what a pilgrimage of my own would be like (45-63). Wanderlust: The History of Walking, by Rebecca Solnit is not a novel, it is a collection of essays all concerning the subject of walking, but this chapter, “Uphill Road to Grace: Some Pilgrimages” is specifically about spiritual walks to spiritual sights, and the physical hardship that is involved with a walk of a significant distance. I am not a spiritual man, however, the value of a trying and difficult task I find intensely interesting. I think of Gandhi and his march the sea, or Caesar Chavez and his hunger strike. The infliction of hardship on the body to expand the mind does not require a god to pay homage to, only a will to overcome, and transcend the physical form. As I read “Some Pilgrimages” I imagined the elation that one would feel upon reaching his destination, like the sea for Gandhi, and that thought was intoxicating. The notion to endeavor something like a pilgrimage had been planted in my mind and would grow into actual planning and preparation. The next few nights I struggled to get to sleep as the thrill of my own pilgrimage consumed my thoughts.
Though the chapter was about spiritual journeys, my atheism did not prevent the notion that I could take such a journey with the intention of intellectual expansion, and the need for some deity to commit to such a task was not necessary. Asceticism is not something that is exclusive to the monks or the priests; it was also practiced by the Spartans. However, making such an adventure, or conceivably a misadventure, reasonable is a rather difficult undertaking especially when divulging the idea to my friends. One of friend was at an utter loss for words, which then became a deluge of reasons why such an idea is bad for this or that reason. My friend even suggested that I may become the victim of a wild animal attack, to which I rebutted that it would be more likely that I would be killed in any metropolitan area than to be killed by wild animals at least statistically speaking. The myriad of conversations I had about the idea of a secular pilgrimage started and ended in similar fashion. Wanderlust provided many good reasons and I should say even encouraged such behavior, but nevertheless most of the reasons seemed counter to the logic of my contemporary cosmopolitans.
After about a week or so of inconsistent sleep caused by notions of walking, theoretical logistical preparations, and possible altercations of foot travel, I decided that I would (in the fall after graduation) walk to San Antonio, Texas. As I began to plan, the sleeplessness continued and every time I laid my head on my pillow and relinquished the thoughts of the to-dos of the day and the next day my thoughts would return to the walking. What would I need, and how would I get there? Do I possess the constitution necessary to accomplishing such a journey? Every night my head swam with thoughts and question too restless to allow sleep, and to enthralling to ignore.
As it turns out I was already in possession of many of the supplies that I might need for my walk to San Antonio. I did eventually, and reluctantly decide it would be a good idea to bring my iPhone since it offers GPS, a telephone line, a camera, a video camera, and a digital journal if I chose to keep one. Though the logistics of keeping an electronic device would create a whole new set of problems (charging the device and the exposure to the elements), it would most likely be worth all the trouble. Briefly while in the Navy Reserves, I acquired an excellent all-weather coat, which would be more than adequate for long walks in the elements. I am also in possession of a very expensive hiking backpack I bought years ago with the intention of backpacking Europe; I never did travel to Europe. The aforementioned supplies would all aid me while I traveled to San Antonio on foot.
After all the planning, preparation, and map gazing, the notion arose that I should somehow test my these theories of walking. Thus, began the planning for the practice adventure that is the subject of this anecdote. It was about two weeks before spring break that I decided to attempt a test walk. Since San Antonio was over 400 miles away it seemed logical to first see if it was at all possible for me to walk any significant distance. With my walk to San Antonio about six months away, I needed to begin my preparation. Gauging my present abilities with a test walk would allow me to prepare more sensibly. The experience gained from actual practice would be highly beneficial, and would offer a taste of the troubles to come from a 400-mile walk.
It was less than a week when I had settled on Slaton, Texas which is located about twenty miles southeast of Lubbock. Slaton’s candidacy stemmed from several circumstances, but, mostly, the distance is significant and according to my previous planning it will be the first leg of my San Antonio walk in August. The practice walk would take place on the first Saturday of spring break (March 9th 2013). After some research I would learn that Slaton only contains an RV Park and is lacking any kind of public campground. Since there would be no where to camp in Slaton I had to figure out what I would do for lodging, my first option was to find a hotel; this is an expensive option and with my finances (the finances, or lack thereof, of the typical college student) that would not be practical, or even possible. The second option would be to have someone retrieve me from Slaton after the walk. The second option was definitely more reasonable and the favor was not much to ask since Slaton is only twenty miles away, and about twenty minutes away. After successfully finding a volunteer for the retrieval mission I was free to plan the test walk.
I left my apartment (I live approximately by the intersection at 4th and Frankford) at around 8 a.m. after a hardy breakfast of eggs and sausage. The brisk spring air was refreshing and seemed to be a sign of a hopeful morning and good omen. The sun was up already and there was only a light breeze.
Almost immediately I walked through the Resthaven Cemetery where I came across a headstone I had never noticed before; it belonged to a Freemason I believe because carved into the stone was a compass and a square. I only stopped for moment since I had a long trip ahead of me, but I took the time to photograph the headstone. Cemeteries quite are places, and Resthaven is no exception. Despite the late spring this year the grass grew rebelliously clothing the ground in a rich green, and this morning in particular the grass was soft underfoot as I walked through the cemetery.
The walk to the city limits took over two hours on foot. The walk through town seemed stifling, but as I came to the edges of town a slow and subtle relief came over me and the air was easier to breath. The first obstacle I came across was the negotiation of the interchange at I-84 and I-85. There are no sidewalks, and on the overpass (I-84) outgoing traffic drive up and over to the left. How this plays out practically is when a vehicles are going over the pass there is a short distance on the bridge that the driver cannot see what is in front of them because the curvature of the road (up and over to the left) blocks the drivers line of sight. The blind spot on the road could pose severe problems for someone on foot, as I am sure that the reader has already intuited. I eventually found a slightly less dangerous way to cross the interchange. The access road to I-84 was on level ground and there was little traffic. I crossed the road going against traffic walking in the furthest left lane. I did garner some odd looks form the drivers of the two trucks that watched me make my way over the pass.
The difficulty of the walking progressed as the sidewalks disappeared. The only path that existed was the fine line carved out for the asphalt road. I finally,officially, reached the road sign that posts the population and declares the city limit, I took a picture to commemorate the accomplishment. As I left the city the weather began to decline and on the planes of Texas that entails ferocious winds and choking clouds of dust. Fortunately, I had packed a bandana that kept the dust out of my nose and mouth.
Near the city limits sign there are a set of railroad tracks that seem to parallel the I-84. I confirmed the theory that the railroad tracks lead to Slaton with my trusty iPhone and Google maps. Following the railroad tracks seemed ton be a better path since trains are relatively infrequent and, aside from walking on the shoulder of I-84, was the only level walkway to Slaton. I walked on the tracks almost the entire way, and the railroad tracks to Slaton were a straight shot. The simplicity of the route afforded me the opportunity to let my mind wander
As I waked in the skies darkened and the unfettered wind became menacing. Most of my thoughts during this practice walk were concerned with confirming the logistical needs that I had anticipated and unforeseen needs that were becoming apparent. I would surely need to take more breaks on the walk. I would also, despite what I had previously thought, need to physically prepare myself before the walk to San Antonio with exercise. The need for new shoes, or hiking boots, was anticipated and all the reasons that a good pair of walking shoes might be needed were manifested in a blisters and soreness. Water was a concern, but that was anticipated.
Occasionally between my musings on the theoretical logistics of the walk, my thoughts did wander to the profundities that Wanderlust suggests one might experience while walking. I pondered the materialism of our society and the intrinsic value of the modern lifestyle. I thought about the film “O’ Brother Where Art Thou,” and the railroad tramps of the early 1900’s. I thought about Jack Kerouac and all the people he met on his journey west to San Francisco; those “mad for life” types. I was jealous of Kerouac. That America, did it exist anymore? I don’t know if it does. I came to nothing conclusive, because the planning of a major adventure was of paramount importance and these musing would have to wait.
At about five hours into the adventure the fatigue began to set in. The muscles of my legs were becoming sore and tired, and there were still miles to go. As I continued the fatigue lengthened the miles and abused my body. All my thoughts shifted to the nagging pain in my legs and all else was washed out as superfluousness. I was almost there and the need my legs announced along with the projected time of arrival that I had informed my volunteer was nearing.
When I came to the sign declaring the city limit of Slaton I almost swooned, yet I still had a fair distance to traverse before I could rest. Before I got close enough to touch the sign my enthusiasms got the better of me and my pace increased until my legs reminded me that I had walked almost twenty miles warning me of the revenge they would claim in the coming days.
Finally, I reached a truck stop on the outskirts of Slaton. I made the phone call to my volunteer and in less than twenty minutes she would arrived. As I waited in pain, and, if one can be bloated with a sense of self satisfaction, I fantasized of the soft, comfortable couch waiting for me at my apartment. Inside the truck stop I purchased an orange sports drink so that I could loiter outside without harassment. Outside on the sidewalk, by the generic freezer that contains ten pound bags of ice, there was an orange, formerly red, picnic table. As I sat at the orange picnic table drinking my orange sports drink, under the brown sky, I waited for the white SUV to rescue me from myself, the world, and my thoughts