transcontinental

It has already been more than two weeks since we walked into the Pacific Ocean. We have chosen to take the advice of many people and take our time heading home. We are in no rush. After a visit all-too-short with our parents and friends in Long Beach, Moms and Dads departed on planes, bound home for holidays in the soft east. With Rob and Slater now following in their own car, Kait and I had Rubie all to ourselves as we drove across and out of coastal L.A. and wound northwest along California 1, the Pacific Coast Highway.

For the first time in many months, I was at the wheel for a long drive. Cars move very fast, and they are terrifying. I don’t know why I wasn’t more terrified when I first learned to drive, but re-learning how to drive post-walk was most stressful. At any moment, I could have done a bad job and rocketed off a cliff, or scraped against the rocky faces. Thankfully, those things didn’t happen. The miles melted away at an astounding rate as we wound along the coast (“400 miles? That’s, like, four weeks of walking!”) The Pacific Ocean lay just to our left, churning its endless tidal churn in every shade of blue that the sky couldn’t muster.

We camped on the beach, and woke to the waves rolling up and down the coastline. The weight and scope of what it means to be looking out over the Pacific Ocean, with no more road to walk West, still hasn’t sunk in. It looks unreal – or hyper-real – as if there isn’t anything at all out beyond the horizon’s edge. Somehow, pressed against the vibrating edge of the endless ocean, our transcontinental crossing seems rather minute.

The Atlantic Ocean, Lewes, Delaware. March 1st 2012

The Ocean has meaning for me for the first time in my life.

Ocean is:

Beginning and End; Challenge and Accomplishment; Dream and Reality; Idea and Fruition.

Brackets for chapters in a life.

The Ocean is where the world ends and you turn back to face your life and all that is before and behind you.

-from Kait’s journal

For two weeks we hid out in San Francisco, sleeping on friends’ couches while we decompressed and adjusted to the Walk being over. After we graduated from Ohio University in 2009, many of our best friends from those years started gravitating out to the Bay area. Tony was the first one to move out, and then Mike and Evan and Brandon – and they just kept coming. There is a big magnet made of people that we love in the Bay, pulling at our minds and hearts. We had originally planned to end our Walk there, and walked with that purpose for many months and states and miles. Even though we ended the physical “walk ocean-to-ocean across the continent” portion of the Walk experience in Long Beach, the city of San Francisco was the true destination of this particular journey.

the view from Tony's roof

Oh, San Francisco! You are a strange and beautiful place. Here swirls the eye of a wild cultural storm, wrapped in fog and bursting with mystery and unapologetic creativity. We have walked to many places, and seen many cities in this vast and sprawling country, and loved very many of them; but San Francisco is Special. There is energy in the air. The city is alive and energetic at all hours of the day.

We took walking tours with Tony, soaking in the ambiance and searching for the pulse of the city. The last time we were here, he lived right on the corner of Haight and Ashbury – right in the thick of the hippie stronghold, sidewalks brimming with street artists and career bums. Now, he lives a little further from the Haight Street circus in a quiet neighborhood up the hill. We walked to the top of his street to Tank Hill, and the whole city lay spread out at our feet.

We walked the streets and rode the trains and saw the things to see. An afternoon in the Museum of Modern Art reaffirmed and encouraged our creative passions. We drove across the Bay to visit Mike in Alameda, and he and his girlfriend Lauren took us on a walking tour of their stomping grounds. After a wondrous food truck lunch, we found ourselves in a strange park known as the “Albany Bulb.”

one the Albany Bulb

Years ago after a large earthquake, all of the concrete rubble and steel was bulldozed together and piled up into a landmass that bulged out into the Bay. Because a pile of trash is ugly – and this is a particularly large pile – someone got the bright idea to bring in dirt and gravel and make some walking paths upon the pile, and thus the Bulb became a park. As time passed, nature reclaimed the Bulb with grasses, trees, birds, and insects. It’s still a trashpile – concrete and rebar jut out in great appendages along the strange little shore – but it has a very unique beauty: Art has taken over the Bulb.

"sit here now"

Technicolor paint covers every viable object – rocks, trees, even the dirt. Everywhere you turn, those who came before have moved and shifted the concrete rubble to make new paths, paved overlooks, benches. Just off the well-worn “official” recreation trail, footpaths branch out into the underbrush in every direction. Figures sculpted out of driftwood and scrap metal tower on the shore, sentinels looking out at San Francisco across the Bay.

Over the years, wanderers and vagrants have slowly populated the Bulb. They have carved out places to live in the nooks and crannies, assembling ramshackle homes of all shapes and sizesout of tarps, tents, old hot air balloons – anything at hand. Rob made the quiet observation that even in this public place, he felt the unmistakable sensation of being in someone else’s home. We tread lightly, trying to move with respect and reverence for the space and its inhabitants while we explored. Everywhere we go in this life, we are guests.

Thanksgiving was a particularly special day this year. Normally, we take turns celebrating holidays with my family in Kentucky and Kait’s family in New York. This year, we got to spend Thanksgiving with our family of friends who have been moving out to the West one-by-one. We celebrated this holiday with our fellow strange young Americans, old friends from college and their new friends here in the Bay. It was kind of an orphan’s Thanksgiving – not that we don’t have families, but most moved from too far east to make it home for every holiday.

In between the breaks we took to drink and jabber on the roof, we absolutely wailed on the kitchen, concocting turkey and sausage stuffing and candied bourbon sweet potatoes and all manner of festive dishes. We put our energy together and infused the great feast with our creative passions and zesty essence, and then we ate it all. Over food and libations, we caught up with our old friends. Years can pass without a word, and we always seamlessly pick right back up where we left off.

Tony and Max

Kait and I have a great deal to be thankful for. Our thoughts are on the Walk, and how grateful we are for the experience, the lessons that we learned about ourselves and each other, and the astounding people that we met. We came to the Walk on good faith that people would support and contribute to our journey with their kindness – and they didn’t let us down. Kind souls all across the country welcomed us, opened their homes and communities, looked after us, called friends and relatives, fed us, helped us, and cheered us on. We met people who dedicate their lives to enriching their communities, to looking out for each other, to helping animals in need. The world is full of conscious, considerate, community-minded people, all working for a brighter future.

We have said it before, and we mean it: We could not have done this alone. We owe a great deal of thanks to many, many people. We are thankful for each and every person that smiled or waved, slowed down or drove around us on the road, took us in, brought us lunch, told their friends about our story…the list goes on and on.

First, we have to thank our parents. Moms and Dads, you raised us from pups and gave us the opportunity to BE. Thank you for bringing us into this world, for raising us right, for always being there for us. Thank you for your love, patience, support, and encouragement throughout this walk and our lives. Thank you for raising us to be the kind of people who can do something like this.

Kait hugging her dad at the finish line. Photo courtesy of Justin Rudd.

Thanks to Stephanie of Camelot Puppy Sanctuary for bringing Grace and Max into our lives. It is because of your work and dedication that they are with us today and able to do the work that they do. And we really love them and love taking them places and showing them the world. Also, thanks for being our best cheerleader on the road. Your pep talks always kept us thinking and walking in a positive direction.

Stephanie!

Thank you Linny, Walter, and Sojourner for walking into our lives at exactly the right moment and leaving a piece of your dream with us. You amazing people inspired us to take the First Step. In no small way, you completely changed our lives and gave us the gift of this Walk.

We owe the Conner family of Lewes, Delaware, a huge hug and Thank You for taking us in on the first day of the walk, and starting us off on the right foot. Your generosity and willingness to welcome so many strangers (and their dogs) into your home really set the tone for our entire trip. You set the bar very high, and we are happy to report that America is full of kind and wonderful souls like yourselves.

Thank you to everyone who hosted us on our journey. There are far too many to list here, which says a lot about how wonderful people were to us. Never underestimate the value of a hot meal, a shower and laundry, a cup of tea, or a pull-out sofa bed.

The Mitchell Family in Bethel, Indiana.

Thank you Pawsibilities Unleashed for your support, encouragement, and help throughout this project from conception to completion.  Thank you for all the work you do to help train rescued animals to help people of all needs.

Thanks to our friends and extended family who hosted us, visited on the road, called, donated, and supported this project from it’s creation. Thank you for never doubting us; for knowing that not only was this possible, but that we would do it.

Thank you to everyone who donated through the website and IndieGoGo.  Together, you all made this possible.  Thanks to the generosity of so many, not only were we able to finish the walk, but we have a surplus of approximately $1,000 that will be donated to Camelot Puppy Sanctuary, a very special no-kill shelter in McArthur, Ohio.

Thanks to Dames and Dogs of Louisville, Kentucky for supporting us and believing in us from the beginning, for helping us with fundraising, and for cheering us on the whole time.  You are wonderful and we can’t wait to hike with you when we get home!

Thanks to Tracy White, who donated Jenny’s vet care when we picked her up in Iowa. Also, thanks to Dr. Carrie Byerly who looked after Jenny when we brought her in.

Thanks to our friend Kate who spent 5 days as our support driver for the final leg of Illinois, and got our car delivered to us so that we could get home for a wedding.

Thank you to Best Friends Animal Society for all of the work you do to help animals in need, and for inspiring others to do the same. And an extra-special thanks to Sherry Woodard for taking such a vested interest in our project, and for spending an entire day showing us around the Sanctuary.

Thanks to Randy Wheat of R.A.I.N. of Central Illinois for the hard, often thankless work that you do as a small animal rescue. You are a man of great passion, and it was truly inspiring and serendipitous to meet you.

Randy

Thanks to Liz Black and the rest of the staff at The Honest Kitchen for providing your amazing dog food during our walk. You were very helpful and patient with our finicky mail-drops and difficult timing. The dogs thrived – their coats are healthy, they love the food, and they are in amazing shape. You’re awesome.

Thank you to Bil-Jac for providing a high-quality dry dog food as we got further West and had to manage our water carefully.

Thanks to Ruff Wear for donating backpacks, boots, and collapsible dishes for the dogs, and for your phenomenal customer service.

Grace sporting her Ruff Wear boots.

Thank you David McHolland for your company and patience as we cut our teeth in Delaware and Maryland during the first week of the walk. And David, we took your advice and didn’t rush to finish – we took our time with the last miles. It was a good call.

David, back at the Delaware/Maryland border. What a guy.

Thank you Tyler Coulson and Nate Damm for sharing your own cross-country treks and hard-learned lessons with us as we planned, then walked – and now rejoin society. We seriously need to start a transcontinental support group.

Thank you various Law Enforcement agencies across the country for letting us sleep in city parks, checking in on us, answering questions, and generally being helpful and supportive.

Thanks to all of the facilities that welcomed our Pet therapy visits. Scheduling and coordinating our visits was a difficult task on the road, and we are grateful to the amazing people who helped us plan our visits and share our therapy dogs with those in need across the country.

Thank you State Parks, National Parks, and the Bureau of Land Management for working to protect America’s great outdoors, and to make those wondrous places accessible to the public. Our natural resources – and I don’t mean the combustible kinds – are the true treasures of this country. They are a uniquely American idea – Yellowstone National Park was the first park of its kind in the world. Thanks to the people that work in fields like forestry and conservation, the raw and beautiful savagery of nature is protected and accessible.

Capitol Reef National Park in Utah

Thank you to all of the volunteers who build and maintain our network of Rails to Trails, The American Discovery Trail, The C & O Canal Towpath, The Appalachian Trail, The Continental Divide Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail, bike paths, hiking trails, and other pedestrian routes throughout America.  These and many more like them are American treasures for all of us to enjoy.

volunteers working on a bike trail in Madison County, Ohio.

Thanks to the US Route 6 Historical Society for your advice and assistance. We picked up Route 6 in Nebraska, and followed it all the way to Utah. It really is a great road.

Thank you to our long-lost friend Jay, who told us that this whole idea was stupid and that we would never make it over the Rockies.

Thank you Daniel, our friend and owner of the store Songs for Seba in Louisville, Kentucky, for making us a big stack of inspiring little works of art to give as gifts to our hosts on the road. Daniel, we left a little line of your positivity from the Mississippi to the Pacific. You’re a transcontinental artist now!

We left this one in San Francisco

Thank you Rob “Over-extracted Coffee” Germanator, for everything you shared with us about trail food, hiking, olive oil, and life. You walked more miles with us than anybody, and put up with our shenanigans for a very long time. You’re a smart cat, Rob. We are proud to call you Family, and hope to see you again soon. Godspeed.

Thank you Lacie and Travis, for everything you did to put together the “The Final Mile” and for hosting the whole team during the last few days. Also Lacie, thank you for believing in us and being so patient and helpful while we planned and talked about the walk non-stop way back in 2010. You were one of the first people that we told about this idea, and you were never anything less than encouraging and supportive.

Thanks to the Recreation Dog Park of Long Beach, California for hosting us at the end of our walk, and Rosie’s Dog Beach of Long Beach, California, for being at the ocean and allowing us to finish our walk there.  And Justin Rudd, thank you for taking some beautiful photos of us at our big finish.

Thank you to our parents, family, and friends old and new who attended the “The Final Mile” event and walked the last two miles to the beach with us.  It was a very special day in our lives and it means the world to us that so many were there to share it.  A special thank you to my Uncle Rick and cousin Sarah for representing the Whistler clan.  Parents, thank you for flying all the way from New York and Kentucky to be there with us.  Speechless.

Thank you to our dear friends Tony, Alex, Evan, Brandon, and Ben for hosting us in San Francisco during our initial post-walk recuperation. We know we were a lot of person and dog to have around, and we were in a pretty weird headspace. You were all patient and wonderful with our weirdness, and we love you.

Thanks Adam Moore for hosting our website, fixing it when it was broken, and being a generally awesome-chill guy and a fine, upstanding gentleman and a good friend.

Last – but certainly most – we thank you, Jon A. Slater III, for your dedication to your friends. You were supportive and enthusiastic the first time we told you about our plan. Thank you for offering to drive a support car for us before we ever took a step. Thank you for calling us every week and asking if we needed help. Thank you for promising that when the day came and we called on you to help, you would buy a plane ticket and be there.

Thank you for keeping your word.

Jon and Brown at the big finish in Long Beach. Photo courtesy of Justin Rudd.

Thank you for quitting your job and giving up your apartment and your cushy California life to live out of a car for five months. Thank you for being our friend, lifeline, one-man support team, dog wrangler, and Grace’s personal limousine driver. You sacrificed a lot to help us, and we know that this trip was a challenge for everyone. Relationships have been thoroughly tested, and it’s safe to say that we made it to the Pacific with a stronger friendship because of it. You are Family. You always have been. We love you. So we got you this to remember us by:

Dusty Rhodes lives on!

A gift you can never lose, because it’s all up in your skin. Dusty Rhodes: Deer. Hood ornament. Mascot. Wayfarer.

Jon, It takes a true friend to do what you did for us. It also takes a true friend to accept a tattoo that I drew as a gift. We have said it many times, but Jon: Nobody else could have done what you did. Truly, deeply, humbly: Thank You.

This Walk was many things – a charitable project, a wild and reckless dream, a personal challenge, a vision quest – but perhaps most importantly, this Walk was a work of Art. This was a performance, meant to uplift and inspire and illuminate you, us – We. Everyone that we met along the way, and everyone who followed from afar, helped to make this project a success. Each person who treated us well has become a point of inspiration to people who hear our story. We have all been working together on this collaborative work of Social Sculpture. Every day, we all leave our marks on the world around us in they way we treat others, the ideas and innovations that we create, the things that we give and the things that we take. We are all artists, creating society together.

I still feel that I am at a loss for words, or thoughts, really, to adequately express how I feel about the Walk coming to an end. I am happy, but I am a lot more sad than I expected to be. My physical body is here, tired, hungry, strangely energetic; my mind is elsewhere, scouring the deep folds of my brain for details and clues from my memories of the walk, trying to make sense of this whole deal and categorize the experience into smaller, orderly bits of information that are more easily processed.

photo courtesy of Justin Rudd.

Before the Walk, there was great anticipation of the Walk. That anticipation built to a beginning – the moment where we stood out on the Atlantic coast, feeling small and overwhelmed and panicked. And we just fell into it, and started walking, and it seemed impossible but I’ll be damned if we didn’t get a little further west with every step. Those first few hundred miles seemed to take forever – a lifetime and continent ago – and we dragged and ached and had very little time to question the Walk. We were fully immersed in the process of learning a new way to live, and figuring out what the new priorities in our days were, and popping blisters – and it was all just so new.

this is what the final route looked like

And somehow…here we stand. Walk completed. We have walked across a continent. Transcontinental. A journey that seemed impossibly long, like it would take years of our lives or longer, now behind us. The whole experience passed so quickly, slipping through our lives like a daydream. Even now, so fresh from the end of the road, remembering the Walk is like trying to hold onto fine sand. The details just slip through my grasp, the timeline becomes transient and confused, and the whole thing could have easily been a dream. It is already filed away in the neural strands of memory, fading fast in the rearview, rocketing away on the road to Time Passed.

somewhere in Illinois, 1,000 miles in.

It is hard enough to believe that we – two little out of shape humans – were capable of doing this; then I look at our dogs. All we asked Max and Grace back in Delaware was “Do you want to go for a walk?” and like any self-respecting dog, they did. So we walked. And walked. And walked. 8 months later, we were still walking.They didn’t protest – they actually seemed excited, alert and aware of everything around us. We fed them and watered them and bent over backwards to make sure that they were healthy and happy. On hot days before the support car, we didn’t cover much ground after morning. On cold days, they were energetic and frosty.

the Dolly Sods wilderness in West Virgina

And then we met Jenny. Jenny ran out of a cornfield like she had been waiting for us, and ran up to Max and Grace like they were old friends. She was a part of the family from that very first moment. And she bounced back from the brink of death to become the most energetic dog in the pack. After Jon joined us with the support car, old Grace got to ride along while Jenny and Max became our go-to walkers. When it wasn’t too hot, they could walk 25 miles with us and still be ready for more. At night around the campfire, they listened intently to rustlings and far-off sounds in the dark. They slept well at every break and every night, but they were always ready to go the moment we started to put on our boots.

Kait's favorite nap, in Lafayette, Indiana.

These dogs are so happy all the time. In many ways, this nomadic lifestyle is more natural to a dog than staying in the same place day after day. Every day was a new adventure, with new people to meet and new smells to smell. Our pack peed on everything available, and left a wonderful little trail of their scents across the continent. For a dog, the opportunity to pee on new things and smell new things every day is probably like winning some kind of dog lottery. It’s a jackpot. And all three of them are in excellent shape. Their coats are shiny, their eyes are bright and alert, they are wrapped in muscle and ready for anything at any moment.

by the Potomac River

For Kait and I, this eight months was a significant chunk of our time on this planet. Nearly an entire year, spent in the best of ways. But it was also such a brief and fleeting adventure. Even now, just a few weeks after finishing, the whole journey is far off in a haze of memory, leaving us wondering if it really happened at all. But for the dogs, this adventure was of another scale entirely.

guarding the backpacks in D.C.

It is said that for every year a human lives, a dog lives seven. I don’t think it’s a very scientific measurement, but the idea is simple: A dog’s life is short. Their timeline is compressed. They age faster than we do. Biologically speaking, they have aged on this trip much more than Kait and I have. What was a fleeting eight month adventure for Kait and I was more like a five year expedition for Max and Grace. Five years on the road. In dog years, this was no small passage of time. My dog is my hero. His unfailing loyalty and enthusiasm for life and doing any old thing is inspiring. If only we could find such simplicity within ourselves.

When things are quiet, and I’m sitting on a couch as I am right now, typing and not going anywhere or doing anything, Max gives me a look. His eyebrows raise in subdued anticipation, searching my face for any signal of what the next THING will be. Where will we go? What will we see and smell? Who will we meet? Is it time for a new adventure? I don’t know how a dog’s memory works, but I have to believe that somewhere in his little fluffy brain, he remembers that long time when we walked forever and lived outside, and every day was new and fresh and exciting. Maybe he dreams of the mountains, or the desert, or swimming in a pond in southern Iowa on a hot day. Remember that one time?

And so we are heading home. We drove south through California, stopped in with Lacie and Travis one last time, and with much difficulty turned the wheel east toward Arizona and New Mexico. The miles melt away in the car. We are getting places so much quicker. From 20 miles a day, to 400 miles a day. Before we know it, we will be home and unpacking our lives once again.

Oh, and by the way, we’re keeping Jenny.

Posted in Animal Rescue, Family, Other Travelers, Therapy Dogs, Trail Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

the final mile

Yesterday was a very interesting day. It was cloudy and cool, and everything was wet and damp and growing and smelling wonderful.

Slater dropped us off at the intersection of Lincoln Avenue and Bloomfield Boulevard. We walked 7 miles to the Recreation Dog Park in Long Beach. There we met with our parents, and Slater, and Kait’s uncle Rick and cousin Sarah, and Lacie and Travis, and a lot of other people.

this was some of it.

The Recreation Dog Park Association was kind enough to sponsor a pet fair to honor the end of our Walk. Our good friend, Lacie, coordinated vendors and press and pulled a really fun afternoon together in no time flat. Porky’s Pizza provided lunch, and Best Friends had a booth representing No Kill LA.

We mingled and the dogs got to socialize in the cool morning. We were interviewed by The Pet Post, and we gave an awkward little talk about ourselves, the dogs, and the walk, and everybody was very nice.

Quincy from the Pet Post

Rob showed up!

Rob surprised us all when he walked up to the park. He wrangled a car and drove from Utah to meet us for our last day. He really was the cherry on top of a significant day in our little timeline. After our speech or sermon or whatever it was, we took off to walk the last 2 miles to Rosie’s Dog Beach, where we would find an ocean. We were joined by family and friends on our walk, and dogs galore.

Dog Parade!

And we rounded the corner, and turned onto Granada Avenue and there it was, stretched out in front of us.

shoes off.

We walked down to the water with our little gang, let the dogs loose, and finished what we started back in Delaware.

victory!

There was some more awkward as all of our family and friends assembled on the beach and snapped a ton of photos of us in the water. Justin Rudd, who was spoken of highly by everyone we met that afternoon and who I understand is responsible for the existence of Rosie’s Dog Beach, offered to take some shots of us with my camera. I handed it over.

Justin, Jenny, and some dog

the team

Kait and I felt weird. We still feel weird. It’s good, mostly. A little sad, too. Overwhelmed. Short of words. Introspective, and a little strange-ed out about the whole experience. It seems very big in scope – a large accomplishment, a significant passing of time and exertion of energy; but it is also a very small thing in many ways, a relatively minute and thin sliver of the experiences to be had in this country, world, and universe. A toe, dipped most briefly into the ocean of life.

As we stood in the tide and tried to think thoughts about all of this, the dogs frolicked as they are prone to doing. I don’t know if they understand what we have accomplished, but they knew something was going on – and they were excited. The Brown Dog even chased a seagull! She didn’t catch it.

no idea why she looks so weird in this one.

a group shot of everyone who was on the beach with us. pretty cool party.

We have a lot of people to thank, but it is a list that deserves its own entry.

Today was a good day.

Posted in Trail Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

out of the desert, into the sprawl

After our rest in Barstow, we booked it south through Yermo. More desert, more rocks, more sand. One day, I was cursing the sun for beating down so hot and heavy; the next, I was freezing to the bone as clouds blocked out the sun, rolling heavy with rain over the mountains to the west. The wind whipped us around as we worked our way along dirt roads that wound below power lines and endless skies.

desert bugs.

The mountains kept rising in the distance, and eventually we came down into a wide valley where Victorville and Hesperia and other interstate sprawl cities sit, with neverending shopping centers stretched along the highway. It was all deceptively small on the map, but went on for miles and miles of frontage road right along I-15.

we crossed the Mojave River.

paint spill

memorials litter the roadside

On the far side of the valley, we camped at the edge of the desert in Summit, just off a paved road overlooking I-15. It was very cold that night. We bundled up in our heavy gear, and Slater had a fire and dinner ready to go by the time Kait and I dragged ourselves to the campsite. In the distance, we could see the snow-dusted peaks of the mountains just to our west, standing between us and the ocean. The next morning, after a warm cup of coffee, we walked into them.

We crossed I-15 just north of Cajon pass, and took a winding back road up and over. Quite suddenly, we realized that we were finally out of the desert. Everything started to grow a bit more green, more hospitable. We turned down a beautiful valley, toward a place marked as Lytle Creek on the map.We couldn’t have asked for more beautiful weather – cool, sunny, soft breeze – a fine day for walking, indeed.

the view to the east - back in time and space.

Lytle Creek

We have both been at a loss for how to process the completion of this walk. It seems too daunting a task – almost as unfathomable as the Walk was before we found ourselves out here on the road. We did a lot of remembering as we soaked up the soft beauty of the valley and let gravity pull us down easy-does-it into the coastal sprawl.

along picturesque Lytle Creek Road

And we came down into the thick of it, the sunny side of the rock, the lizard kingdom! We have walked through many urban sprawls before – Washington D.C., Dayton, Ohio, and Las Vegas all spring to mind – but this time is different. We won’t be walking back out of this sprawl, that grows and swells with people all wanting to be here, breathing hard and pressed in tight between the mountains and the sea. This time, we just keep walking into it and walking into until we reach the ocean. And that moment, while amazing, also signifies the end of the Walk and the beginning of whatever comes next.

By map, the press of civilization against the edge of the mountain and the flowing line of the ocean looks pretty solid and homogeneous  – our last 60 miles or so, weaving through shopping districts and palm tree neighborhoods for days. But every section, every subdivision and city in the greater Paved Region has its own unique palette, its own claim to the dirt. We walked on and on through Fontana, Rancho Cucamonga, Pomona, Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights, Whittier – and finally, we caught our first glimpse of the ocean in the distance, gleaming orange and misty through the sun and haze of the city.

That shining glow on the horizon is the Pacific Ocean, 18 miles out across the sprawl.

And now we are here. At the end of the thing. We stopped walking about 9 miles from the ocean, and drove ahead to Lacie’s house to kill a few days before the big finish tomorrow. It is hard to be this close, and intentionally not walk to the beach mere miles away. But when we set up our final event, we invited the public to share that moment with us – the first time we reach the Pacific Ocean since leaving Delaware. We could not have made it across the country without the support of friends, family, and community on he road. People invited us into their homes and lives, and we want to share this accomplishment with anyone who wants to join us.

Tomorrow morning, we will walk to the Recreation Dog Park here in Long Beach, hang out with the pups for a couple of hours, and then walk the last 1.8 miles to the Pacific Ocean at Rosie’s Dog Beach with anyone who would like to join us. We hope to see you there.

For more information about tomorrow, check out “The Final Mile.”

Posted in Trail Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

95 miles to go

Friends, we are less than 100 miles from reaching the coast. I got faked out a few days in a row by mountains on the horizon, thinking they must be the last wall of rock between us and the ocean. Today, we walked 24 miles to Victorville. Far off in the haze and half-light, we finally caught sight of the last range of this walk. In a couple of days, we will be up and over Cajon Pass, and overlooking the 50-mile sea of people-places that will usher us to the big water. We are tired and insane and totally stoked to be alive.

Posted in Trail Life | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Baker to Barstow (almost)

Confession time: We are kind of getting sick of the desert. We have been walking through the sandy, rocky, shadeless wastes for hundreds of miles and nearly 2 months. Enough is enough.

I don't even know where I took this picture. Desert somewhere.

We are tired of no shade, no respite from the sun. We are tired of sunburn and dry skin and chapped lips. We are worn out on sand-sabotaged tent zippers and the ever-present concern of water management. Kait said it best: “I’m not a lizard. I need trees and seasons.”

water breaks take place my bushes big enough for dog shade. no bigger.

We are sick of sand in EVERYTHING – boots, socks, in-between-toe spaces, tents, sleeping bags, underpants, hairy dog everyplaces, snacks, meals, water bottles, camera parts, book pages, eyes, ears, teeth. Seriously. There is no end to the sandy onslaught.

Mojave nothing

Outside of Baker, we walked out into a mostly empty expanse of Mojave desert, always keeping an eye on the constant rumbling line of I-15. Slater had to skip ahead for lack of roads and paths – and that fearless kid will drive on almost anything – so we frolicked across the nothings, let the dogs fly free for a while. We saw very few living things. Even though we are getting pretty damn close to the ocean, the desert seems to be getting more and more desert-esque. Where are the palm trees and junk? Joshua trees don’t count.

le frolic

newer dog is certifiably insane, and comprised of 98% organic wiggly bits.

Off to the south and west, this empty waste stretched on infinitely, punctuated by towers of crumbling rock and sand. The curve of the earth rose slowly in front of us so that we found ourselves walking toward the wall of southern Sierra foothills. As we approached the giant monoliths, they split and stretched and revealed gaps and passes which we wound our way up and over. Always up, it seems, with gravity pulling our weight back down through every sliding, inefficient, soft-sand step. Oh, how I long for pavement!

Subaru-impassable dirt roads, in sight of I-15. And did I mention the sand?

We made it most of the way to Yermo, 7 days without a break. Then the sun and sand and general desert rat malaise got to us. Kait suffered a lunar-linked migraine, and we threw in the towel on walking one more day before a break. We drove ahead to Barstow, where the Economy Inn gave us a wee discount. Our path ahead will take us south of Barstow, but we needed to detour up here anyway to resupply. Day off: post office, laundromat, food face-stuff times, grocery, water fillings, showers and bed sleeps. Tomorrow, we’ll be back on the trail, pushing to make Victorville in 4 days.

postacrds of us! how rad!

Also, our photo postcards showed up in the mail! We are going to send these to people who have hosted us along the way (and hope we don’t miss anybody) and applicable IndieGoGo funders. Kait’s been busy addressing them. We are also working on the handpainted ones, but they are taking awhile. Art is hard, and cannot be rushed.

Also also, Tyler Coulson sent us a copy of his book about his coast-to-coast walk (among other life-related things) and we are STOKED to read it. It’s called By Men Or By The Earth, and it is pretty cool indeed. I promise to review it harshly as soon as I have read it.

Max is on my lap, and wants to type a bit:

“jjjjjkjkcfjhhjdfxdhxbdnx ceshndjnmn c ndxk,dsk,kdskmksikdifrjnfgn  ncv c cx  bcvmncfmnccf n c  dfm mjcvmcvmcmncfmnf  f  bdf  e de de d d d ddeddedddddduiuiuwik34  4jksxjnsdbnasbnddmnnxmxlszzzzzdksl;dkfgkjm sxikmjc kl,zmn≈Ωxcx.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself, little buddy.

Posted in Trail Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

through the valley of Joshua

at the California border

We walked up and out of Sandy Valley, deep into the Mojave desert of southeast California.

image

I barely contained my curiosity about what "laser shock" means...

Up and over a pass, we came down into a wide and sweeping desert valley, 20 miles north of I-15. The sun glowed golden and illuminated the mountains on either side of the valley.

image

As we walked down Kingston road all day, the light moved and shifted and revealed a valley floor covered in a forest of Joshua trees, stretching away in all directions and fading to a soft green against the distant mountain bases.

image

From a car window rocketing across this landscape at 70 miles per hour, it must seem barren and void of life; but moving on foot, it becomes clear that even in this harsh and unforgiving land, there is life everywhere.

image

The shrubs and cacti and joshua trees grow heavy and impassable in some places; little holes and burrows perforate the soil around every bush and shrub, lived in – or once so – by all manner of insects, spiders, mice, birds, and snakes. Black desert beetles and camel spiders wander the endless desert, aimlessly listing from shade to shade as the sun rises and falls.

image

someone spent a lot of time on this. it was charged with energy.

We camped that night in the valley of Joshua, and felt the powerful, raw mystic energy of the western desert rise up and charge our roots with warm and wondrous sparks. I felt wired in, grounded in that place. I ran with Max in the twilight, tracing the paths of washes and rabbit runs and leaping over bushes and cactus, as the sunlight fell and bent and fractured into every shade of the rainbow across the electric desert sky.

image

Joshua

image

spider webs hung heavy with kills.

upon close inspection,
the ground beneath your feet
is but sand and crumbled rock;
but far across the valley of Joshua
reaching far into the heavens,
the mountain seems solid enough.

image

I stayed up late that night as our fire died, wrapped in a blanket and staring at the moon. Poetry, life lessons, past mistakes and triumphs all roiled through my mind. All the while, the most unreal realization: We just walked to California.

image

The next morning we walked on toward I-15, picking our way along rough sand roads and washes.

image

image

legit desert

Kait’s cousin Charlie called – he plays bass in Chamberlin, and the band was on the road between LA and Vegas. They wanted to see us as we passed in the desert, and they brought us a roadside picnic of pizza, beer, and all things good. They’re such nice boys – listen to their sounds.

image

Chamberlin!

And we came to Baker, where we ate and bathed and washed our clothes and filled our water. And now we are off again, following the I-15 corridor to Barstow, and Victorville, and ocean view sprawl beyond.

image

Posted in Family, Trail Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

California sunrise and the ghost of Vegas past

image

I am troubled on our first morning in California. We woke to a fiery sunrise from the east, coming up over the far side of Sandy Valley. It reminded me of the way those mountains looked last night, glowing in the backlit etheral light cast by Las Vegas, now fading quickly into the distance behind us.

In the twilight haze and my haste to write about our time in that strange place, I forgot many a detail. I think that few tourists see much of the city outside the relatively safe bubble of the strip; but walking through it end-to-end, we saw what life is like for those that don’t live under the glow of the neon, or behind the friendly gates and guardhouses that insulate the nicer neighborhoods to the west. I was so struck by the sight of the depths of poverty cast aside just beyond the edge of the opulent, extravagant, indulgent glow, that I was blinded to the positive energy we were lucky to share.

We met Marcia and Glenn (sorry I didn’t get a picture of you,) fellow animal lovers and rescuers of dogs in need, out for lunch. They adopted Randall LaRue from Camelot Puppy Sanctuary (his story is a little ways down on their website) which makes him cousins with Max and Grace. While Glenn and Marcia have never met Stephanie face-to-face, they remain in close contact. We were happy to shed some light on the positive force of all things good and doggy that is Stephanie and Camelot.

Over lunch, Marcia told us of her own brand of community service: She writes letters (from her dogs) to inmates in prison that have no family, no other form of correspondence. While a letter from a dog sounded goofy at first, she told us that the inmates often write back, telling their own stories and warning the dogs to behave so they don’t end up in the pen. For people with little else to look forward to, Marcia’s letters must be a ray of sunshine. Thanks again for the food and inspiring conversation, kids.

And of course, how could I forget to talk about my own family? They took time away from their lives to see us – not Vegas – out on the road. My dad cashed in his vacation time to make the flight, and my brother put his job search on hold to be with us for few short days. We got to live like civilized folk for a few days, take in the sights and eat food we couldn’t have afforded ourselves. It was a valuable moment of rest and comfort in an otherwise hectic and inhospitable city.
To family and friends, we owe you an enormous and infinite Thank You for supporting us in this absurd adventure. Now, if you’ll excuse me, we have an ocean to catch.

Posted in Family, Trail Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Californy or bust

Today, we finally crossed into California. The greener pastures of San Bernardino beckoned us across Sandy Valley. We walked here with our feet and it feels good.

Posted in Trail Life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

fear and loathing and sexy cat costumes

“But our trip was different. It was to be a classic affirmation of everything right and true in the national character. A gross physical salute to the fantastic possibilities of life in this country. But only for those with true grit.”

-from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” by Hunter S. Thompson

Vegas, you win the honorary title of “weirdest city I have ever walked across.”

image

We came in from the east, following Las Vegas Boulevard past Nellis Air Force Base. fighter jets and helicopters roared endlessly overhead, taking off and roaring up the strip and across the valley, chasing each other in wide circles back around to the runway only to refuel and take off once again. Jet fuel must not seem expensive when taxpayers foot the bill.

image

Onward we walked into the ghetto sprawl of North Las Vegas, past gated motels and boarded up carcinerias. In nooks and crannies and shaded corners, shopping cart apartments and trash collections loitered and waited for their owners to return from god knows where. Absolute desperation peeked out from shadowy awnings and beat-down bus stops. This is the First World, folks. Meet the Decline.

image

home sweet home.

We couldn’t get into the Vegas VA to visit with veterans, but the staff at HELP of Southern Nevada’s Shannon West Homeless Youth Center was very excited about our project and invited us to come in and visit with the kids. HELP provides a variety of services and facilities to the Vegas metro community. The youth center offers residential and education services to at-risk youth ages 16-24. They give these young souls a place to live and a chance to make a better life for themselves. Many come from abusive or neglectful backgrounds, gang life, and poverty. At Shannon West, they can have a safe place to sleep, an education, job training and placement, and a supportive staff to give them the encouragement and opportunity that so many of us take for granted.

image

one of the girls borrowed my camera for a bit.

image

Jenny is getting good at this

As always, the dogs were the stars of the show. While we told the kids about our travels and the things we have learned, the pups made their rounds and got the unconditional love train rolling. Smiles abound and great conversation kept us hanging out long after our “presentation” was over. We left HELP feeling absolutely energized, and humbled to be able to give back to this vibrant community in our own small way. The kids have so much energy and potential, and they totally pumped us up.

image

image

slater and OBD. seriously.

image

word of wisdom

We walked about 1/3 of the way into the thick of the Vegas sprawl – past nugget-themed casinos and the ancient Palomino Club (“where old strippers go to die” is how one local described it) – before throwing in the towel and piling into the car for a couple of days off. My parents flew in from Kentucky to visit us and make sure we are eating enough, and they found a ridiculously affordable house to rent, and we lounged for a few days while we caught up on clerical duties. Planning for our end-of-the-walk event is in full swing. Oh, and we ate a metric TON of food. After all of our one-pot cooking on the road, we absolutely wailed on a fully stocked kitchen and poolside grill. Did I mention the pool? And the private yard with a secure dog run? All for less than the price of two hotel rooms? What.

image

drove out to red rocks canyon so the family could see the sights

We spent some time wandering the strip and soaking up the weird. People come to Vegas from all over the world to act absurd and drink and throw money into thin air. Also, it was Halloween weekend and slutty whatevers mingled far and wide so you couldn’t tell who was a paid sexy entertainer, and who was just there looking for attention. Few words describe it better than “shit show.”

image

pardon my french...

We met a fine street musician named Wild Bill, who was honking horns and squeaking squeaks at the freaks in rhythm and time to the pulse of the street. Slater walked up to give him a couple of bucks, and he launched into a motivational speech like no other. According to his website, Wild Bill is “The Perfect Speaker, Motivator, Master of Ceremonies, Event Host/Planner, Announcer, Graphologist/Profiler, Trainer, Coach, Business Consultant, Personal Counselor, Spokesperson, Syndicated TV & Radio Broadcast Host/Producer, Journalist, Author, Concert/Special Event Promoter, Musician, Actor, Comedian, Recording Artist, Songwriter & Guinness Book World Record Breaker.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

image

As we walked the strip, meandering in and out of casinos and upscale shopping areas, I couldn’t help but think of the thousands of children in this very country who don’t have enough food to eat. While Slater held down a Roulette table with a modest handful of dollars and a slow-and-steady strategy, a drunk dude about my age walked up, handed the attendant a $100 bill, requested a single $100 chip, lost it immediately, and walked on to the next table like it was no big deal. That could have been a week of groceries for someone. Incredible.

image

some expensive fountain.

Full of shame on behalf of everyone, we finally got back to walking. We said adios to the parents and continued our straight shot down Las Vegas Boulevard. We walked our dogs and pushcart down through sketch neighborhoods where friendly veterans with trackmarks and smiles wished us well, down toward the strip and the bacchanal and excess everything. We negotiated sprawling crowds of tourist, up and over escalators and walkways connecting the casinos and had a grand old time soaking up the weird. We ran into a producer for the Ellen Degeneris show getting ready to do a spot in front of the Venetian, and she said she would pass our project along to the heads (still waiting for that phone call, Ellen!)

image

on the strip

Back out the other side of the End Of Civilization As We Know It, things started to look a little more typical suburban sprawl. We stayed the night with Kait’s cousin, Kim, and her boyfriend, Luke, before heading out of the city limits this morning.

image

Now, we are once again camped under clear skies and full moon. We ate our modest dinner and watched the sun set over endless cactus and Joshua tree expanses. Tomorrow, we will cross the border into California. We have less than 300 miles left. It is hard to believe that this walk is almost over.

“There was only one road back to L.A. – U.S. Interstate 15. Just a flat-out high speed burn through Baker and Barstow and Berdoo. Then onto the Hollywood Freeway, and straight on into frantic oblivion. Safety. Obscurity. Just another freak, in the freak kingdom.”

– “Fear and Loathing” (again.)

Posted in Therapy Dogs, Trail Life | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

walking to the end of the world

Nevada, what can I say? You’re a very strange state of time and space.

overlooking the solemn bordertown of Mesquite, Nevada

We walked west through Mesquite, out into nothing and more nothing. The Nevada desert stretches on and on, punctuated by mountains and rock forms off in the distance. We crossed the Virgin River, grooved on the surprising amount of water flowing through this barren place, and headed up and out of the river valley following the line of I-15 in the distance.

The Virgin River

At the guidance of Google, we found ourselves turning onto an unnamed road that took us up the eroded side of a mesa. Barricades and washouts blocked Slater’s path to follow us in the car, but at every obstacle he found a gravel path that vehicles before us had carved out. He passed us and headed up the road to set up camp at the top.

As we climbed higher, the road's condition worsened.

Somehow, Slater maneuvered up the crumbling hillside, past sheer cliffsides where more than half of the pavement has dropped off down to the desert floor below.

I am relieved that I wasn't in the car when Slater drove up this ghost of a road.

the view from the top

At the top of the plateau, the road flattened and took us on a straight line through an expanse of cacti and inhospitable rock. We moved through the desert, hop-scotching with Slater along the long-lost road with no name.

From studying the map, we knew that we would run out of road eventually and have to pick our way across the desert for several miles, following along I-15 and meandering around scrub brush and sketchy terrain. With great anticipation, we walked to the end of the paved road and into much-less-traveled territory.  Rob, if you’re reading – we wished you could have been there for this one. It was by far one of the coolest days of walking of this whole insane thing.

grabbing some shade

At one point, we came to the edge of a deep wash that quickly crumbled into a deep, wide ravine, leading far down to the desert floor. Our rough path dead-ended, and we had to scramble through the barbed-wire fence near I-15’s corridor to get around the scar in the earth. Back on the wild side of the fence, we followed Max to the edge of the deep to have a look-see.

Max likes the high-ups places.

Jenny held still for more than 2 seconds!

And on we walked, scrambling across the rocky substrate. We stumbled upon a trail marker for the Old Spanish Trail, which we have met up with and followed in sections since western Utah.

a register for the Old Spanish Trail.

As we came to overlook Moapa Valley, the ground dropped sharply again into another deep wash. We had no choice but to climb down and walk along the crumbling edge to get around it, as there was no space between the drop and the interstate. Across the wobbly boulders, we finally came to the top of the valley. It was truly a sight to behold.

Moapa Valley

Looking down upon I-15. So strange that nobody on that road could see the valley, just over the ridge.

The next day, things took a turn for the frustrating. We were still making our way roughly parallel to I-15, which was un-walkable. A mere 54 miles from the Vegas sprawl, we found ourselves walking across strange dirt roads toward power plants and mining operations. As Kait and I picked our way along some railroad tracks to meet up with Jon, my phone rang. “Hey, man, where are you guys? Security says we are on private property, and they have to escort us back out.” Bad news. The power company hadn’t seen fit to label their roads and lands as private, and so we had wandered deep into a place where we found ourselves most unwelcome. The rent-a-cop led us back to the road, and we were left with a frustrating predicament: Either we would have to backtrack and walk down into Moapa Valley, past Lake Mead and through Valley Of Fire State Park (which would add 20+ miles to our route,) or drive 20 miles northwest to find another passable route down the Great Basin Highway.

mysterious X's litter the desert.

After much frustration and waffling on the decision, we decided to phone a friend. I called Tyler, walker extraordinaire, and told him of our predicament. He shed some light on the Valley of Fire route – the path he walked last year – and said that even if we backtracked and walked those extra miles, we would end up screwed and dead-ended once again a little further up 15. No matter how we cut it, we would have to skip ahead before we would reach Vegas. We studied the map further, and decided to take the re-route up toward 93 – a 20-mile car ride that moved us no closer to Vegas, but rather circled us around to a Northern approach. We lost the miles we walked into private property, and moved from 54 miles west Vegas, to 55 north of the city instead. No loss, no gain – except for a little wiggly gap in our steady line across the map. Other than the silliness and wrong turns outside of Grand Junction, that’s the first true re-route we have had to do since our similar move in West Virginia. We weren’t happy about it, but Tyler helped us make the decision.

water and blister break

Then, the fun really started. As we started walking the 50-mile southbound stretch of 93, The Great Basin Highway, the wind began to blow against us, coming hard from the south. The gusts were steady and unyielding, and easily topped 30 mph. The forces of nature conspired to make us pay for our reroute. To make matters worse, 93 had very little paved shoulder – just a hard-sloping grade of hideous gravel, which we had to slog through, pushed around by the buffeting wind. For two days straight. The sandy soil let loose of its purchase and whipped across our faces, raking deep into our shiny eyes. It all sucked most tremendously.

The Great Basin.

The closer we got to Vegas, the more an oppressive military presence showed its face – strange installations rose up on mountainsides; giant rusted hatches perforated the basin floor; blackhawks and fighter jets and bombers made their rounds up and down the basin. All day they screamed and roared overhead, and at night they hovered and boomed over our tents in the desert, searchlights on and scrimmage-running in the dark. The last night before reaching the sprawl, we camped about 10 miles from Nellis Air Force Base.

the unholy glow of Sin City.

The next morning, we rose early and started our long strange walk into the heart of the beast.

...we probably shouldn't have camped here.

We passed Nellis Air Force Base while I talked with our long-lost friend, Scott, on the phone from Albuquerque. Scott grew up in Nevada, and regaled me with stories of sandy grit in his teeth, unrelenting desert heat and wind, and sketchy government goings-ons. He informed me that almost all of the land in Nevada is Federally owned – very little is owned by the public. As a result, this state was the proving grounds for the Manhattan project, the development of the Atomic bomb, and many, many other insidious and shadowy military projects. Black budgets, cover-ups, experiments carried out at the expense of the unsuspecting, sparsely populated towns of the desert. He said he remembered a collective look of desperation and hopelessness on the faces of his people, as they eked out their lives in this heavily poisoned land. “Don’t drink the water, don’t breathe the air.” Good God.

Welcome to Vegas.

Now that we are deep in this city of sin, we are taking a few days off to spend time with my parents (they came to visit, here, of all places.) We shall soak up the weird and sad and opulent excesses, and then quite happily leave it all behind to walk out into the desert again. Bring on the culture shock.

Posted in Trail Life | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments