I was safe and sound in Willcox, but something was going to have to change.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
In my updated route, after I found out I couldn’t walk on interstate highways, the road from Willcox to Safford was a forty-eight mile stretch without a single place to rest or fill up on water. Doing some rough calculations, I would need to carry just about four gallons of water to make it there with some to spare. Since each gallon of water weighs eight pounds, I knew with certainty that there was no way I’d be able to carry an additional thrity-two pounds of water. I’d need a bicycle to ride there in a day, or pull a handcart behind me to carry the extra load. Cycling would defeat the purpose of the adventure, so I was in the market for a cart.
My motel was on the southwest end of town near the tracks, and I walked to the north end to an Ace Hardware store to see what they had for sale. There were some all-plastic push carts and some heavy-duty steel ones, but they also had a steel-frame, plastic body four-wheeler that was just the right size. It was $80.00, but it looked sturdy and could probably last me at least a thousand miles. After inspecting it for worthiness, I purchased it and pulled it back to the motel, confident with my decision.
With that problem solved, I set to work on editing pictures and typing up my adventure log, intent on catching up since my “Day 1” article. But I found myself distracted and procrastinating, surfing the internet, watching movies, and generally avoiding my duties. I kept chalking it up to being tired from the previous days, but there was something in the back of my mind that was stopping me from going forward. I purchased an additional night’s stay, and spent the remainder of my time without having made any progress on my writings.
Three nights after my dad dropped me off, I geared up in the evening for the start of my journey to Safford. It felt liberating to not have to bear the load of my pack on my shoulders, and instead pull it behind me on four wheels. While waiting for traffic to subside so I could cross a street, a man in a truck pulled up next to me.
“Hey man, you need some help?”
“Help? No thanks, I don’t need any.”
“Where you going?”
“New York City! I should be there by November.”
“…are you, okay?”
“Um, yeah, I’m good. You?”
“Yeah… alright then, best of luck to ya.”
I stopped in a dollar store for food and water, but as I was heading out, I noticed that one of my tires was nearly flat, and another was going soft. I crouched down and inspected the tires, and found the culprit: goatheads. Damned goatheads! Long ago I had bought solid tires for my old bicycle back home, so I had forgotten all about these little bastards. The dollar store was across the street from the Ace Hardware, so I went back there and bought some Fix-a-Flat, figuring I’d pump my tires up with it and be good until Safford. After filling them up, the tires seemed to hold their shape, so I headed out again.
From Willcox, I planned to walk up north through a long ranch-road, crossing a cluster of mountains northeast, linking up with the 191 north and following it into Safford. I stopped in the local Burger King, which sat adjacent to the I-10, then crossed over the highway and began following the road north. It took me through a large neighborhood of sorts, consisting of houses sitting on flat plots of land many acres in size. Towards sundown, I heard a pair of side-by-sides coming up behind me, so I gave them a wide berth. The first one passed at a decent pace, but then later, the second one was rushing down the road, piloted by a bunch of kids. The driver was trying to show off or something, because he suddenly veered right, then over-corrected and fishtailed left coming right for me. I jumped back, and he missed me by a yard. I yelled at them for being stupid idiots, but I doubt they heard me over the sound of their wheels.
Later, while sitting on my cart on the side of the road, I was facing the east taking a rest. I heard a small shuffle in the bushes directly behind me, and I turned to see a big red coyote creeping up on me. I jumped up and reached for my pistol, and the coyote panicked and ran off across the street, ducking under the fence. My heart was beating pretty fast from the surge of energy I just experienced, so I declared by break was over and I kept on moving.
Just after sunset, I came to the end of the neighborhood road, which, after an intersection, turned into a meandering dirt road which led to the northeastern mountains. But as it did, I saw a big sign off the to left:
PRIVATE PROPERTY – NO TRESPASSING. KLUMP RANCHES.
Oh come on! There wasn’t even a gate, just a cattle guard to protect it. Further up the road, I also saw another STATE TRUST LAND – PERMIT REQUIRED sign. Welcome to the West, folks. Unless you purchase a motor vehicle, there are some places you simply are not legally allowed to leave. I’m sure someone could make a case that somehow, in some way, the interstate system’s restrictions were unconstitutional since they prevented freedom of travel, but that’s a fight for another time. I looked around for any signs of people, and didn’t see any, so I just kept walking. If someone found me, I’d just have to explain my story and tell the truth. Hopefully they’d be taken aback and allow me to travel through.
I kept my headlamp off unless I absolutely needed it, and every so often I’d stop and check for lights coming up or down the road. Many times, I thought I would hear a car and begin to hide, only to realize it was coming from another road miles away. It was slow going, it was frustrating, and I was upset that I was having to commit a crime just to walk somewhere. I felt dishonest and dirty, and after my cart tipped over while pulling it over a berm, I threw down the handle and sat down in disgust, trying to clear my mind.
While I was waiting for the storm clouds in my mind to disperse, I heard a cacophony of howls coming from the hills behind me. Splendid, now I have to deal with them too. Any place I decided to sleep would have to be not only hidden from the road, but defensible with limited egress points. I got up and righted my cart, and continued down the road.
I had only gone another half mile when I heard the familiar sound of a mooing bull, and I stopped cold. I turned on my headlamp, and as I looked around, I could see that from the sea of glowing green eyes all around me, I was surrounded by a huge herd of cattle. I heard them moo and stand up, looking from one heifer to another, but I couldn’t tell which one was the bull. I retreated slowly, not turning my back and sweeping my light across the area to make sure none of them were making any sudden moves. I crossed back over the cattle guard, and decided to call it quits. I was done being a criminal, and I was tired of having to deal with these damned cattle. I was going back to Willcox.
It was nearly midnight, and walking back to town would take at least another three to four hours, which I didn’t have the energy for. I searched around for a place to sleep, finding a wash that formed a shallow gully with plenty of trees and earth formations to use as cover down the way. I hauled my cart through the wash, and made camp in a dip in the ground that was protected by thick, thorny bushes on three sides. Sleep didn’t come easy, since I kept hearing coyote howls getting closer and then further away, but eventually exhaustion won over and I got a groggy three hours of rest.
Near dawn, while laying in my bivy trying to muster the gumption to stand up, I heard a truck coming from the north. I sat up and laid flat any of my gear that stood too tall, then hunkered down and waited. The truck came down the way without noticing me, but I was concerned I’d encounter it again if it came back. I packed up my stuff in a hurry and quickly hiked down the road, without stopping to check for more vehicles.
After three miles, just a few hundred yards before crossing onto public property, I spied the truck parked on the side of the road. Using my camera, I could see that it was parked near a trail that led up a steep hill towards a large water holding tank, as well as some radio dishes. There was no one in the truck, so I walked as fast as I could towards it, and passed out of the private land without getting spotted. I was barely functioning from lack of sleep, so I pulled my cart to a small shady spot just beyond Klump Ranch’s property and laid down in it for an hour, using it as a makeshift bed. That same truck drove past me without knowing where I had come from, so I was very glad I managed to get the right timing to avoid him.
The sun eventually killed my shady spot, I so hiked down the road to a big tree with plenty of shade, across from an abandoned house with camper trailers scattered about. I napped there for a couple hours, occasionally moving away from curious tarantula hawk wasps, until I heard a young voice behind me.
“Hey mister, are you alright?”
I sat up and turned to see two teenage boys, dressed in surplus combat gear, holding handheld radios.
“I’m doing fine, just resting for a while. You boys doing some exploring?”
“Yeah, we’re gonna check out that old house and see if we can find any weapons or cool things, for um… zombie stuff.”
I chuckled. “I know what you mean, I used to do the same thing with my friends.”
I told them about my adventure to New York City, and we chatted for a bit about coyote attacks, strange happenings around town, and what the best kind of knife for the apocalypse was. After we ran out of topics, the boys bid farewell and went to exploring the ruins across the street, while I went back to my nap/meditation.
I had no idea what I was gonna do. There wasn’t a single road leading out of town that wasn’t the interstate. I couldn’t hitchhike on the I-10, since it’s illegal and everyone’s going too fast anyways. I could try to hitchhike at the gas station, but that would seem strange to most people and the owners would most likely ask me to leave their property. I needed the Internet to look around for an answer.
I hiked back into town, and walked into a Super 8 motel which was very close to the interstate. I bought a one night stay, and looked online for a taxi or some kind of ride service. Nothing. Asking the motel receptionist didn’t help either. I was at a loss. But then, I saw my mom had tried calling me on Skype, so I returned her call. She was happy to hear from me, and said that her and her boyfriend were going to be near Safford tomorrow and wanted to come see me when I got there. I explained my situation, and she agreed to meet me in Willcox instead, and give me a ride to where the 191 meets the I-10. Hooray!
I ended the call, and when I went to get a snack from my cart, I saw that the wheels were leaking goo. Crap! So many more holes had been punctured in them that there wasn’t enough pressure for the goo to maintain shape. I cleaned up the mess, and I realized I would have to get new wheels, preferably solid rubber. Hopefully Ace would have them, but that was a problem for tomorrow.
The next morning, I checked out and my mom and her boyfriend Roman arrived just after 11am. It was great seeing the two of them, and after a round of hugs and handshakes, we went loaded the cart in her car and went to Ace after grabbing some lunch. Luckily, they did have some solid tires that were the same diameter, but we had to add some washers and spacers to make them fit the axle. They cost me nearly $100 (ouch!), but these were almost three inches thick so they probably would last all the way to New York City. We also fixed a thick rope loop to the handle, so I could hook it around my body and pull it hands-free. I didn’t want to leave Willcox until the evening because of the oppressive heat, so we hung around town and caught up with our lives until it was time to go, around 6pm. At the highway interchange, I had a teary goodbye with my mom and Roman, and began on the long road to Safford.
I walked on through sundown for about six miles, but the traffic at night was causing me some concern, so I decided to camp out around 9pm and hike in the early morning. I found a spot among some bushes, behind an unlocked gate along the constant barbed wire that lined the highway. I had to shoo away a couple curious gophers during the night, but I slept without incident, waking up just after dawn. I packed up my stuff and hauled it through the gate, closing it behind me, and spent some time adjusting my gear. A rancher man pulled up in a truck and went through the gate while telling me good morning, and was none the wiser of where I had slept.
The going was decent, with most of the road being flat or gently declining towards Safford. Along the way, I found a pick-pole that some chaingang laborer had left on the side of the road, and decided to take it. With it, I had a staff in each hand, which made pulling the cart much easier.
The sky was blue and hazy, being somewhat obscured by the fires which raged on most of the mountaintops around here. A warm wind blew, which helped clear away some of the smell of exhaust which tended to follow the trucks and semis that passed me. Around noon, an SUV pulled up in front of me and a middle-aged woman came out to greet me.
“Hey! Do you need a ride into town?”
I pulled down my shemagh. “No I’m good, I’m walking there on my way to New York City.”
A cute redheaded girl slightly younger than myself came out of the passenger side. “What?! New York City? I can barely walk down the hall to the bathroom!”
I told them about my website and such, and they earnestly agreed to check me out online. I waved them goodbye and carried on until about 2pm, when the heat was getting unbearable and I was having trouble with my cart tipping over when going down hills. A little ways up the road, I found a now-favorite spot to rest: under a bridge. I napped until the evening, then kept up my long hike.
Near sunset, I came to an intersection between the 191N and a road that led west to a military base. There was a very large triangle-shaped area between two of the exchange roads, and I took a rest there. While sitting on my cart, a man in a truck pulled up behind me and offered me some bottles of cold water. I gladly accepted it.
I hiked on through the night, and in the distance I could see the lights from Safford and the surrounding area. My goal was in sight! But boy, was I tired, and my feet were mighty sore. My knee still had some pain, but ever since getting the cart it started fading away. From where I was, I still had another twelve miles to reach downtown Safford, where all the motels were, so I knew I wouldn’t be getting there tonight. My plan was to camp out at a state park called Dankworth Pond, which was five miles from where I was. After passing through the outskirts of the suburb area, I arrived there shortly before midnight, and discovered signage that sstated no camping was allowed, and said I’d have to go four miles north to Roper Lake State Park. Yeah… screw that.
The entrance to Dankworth was down a side road between some private properties and behind a low, sandy wash area. With much difficulty trying to get my cart down there, I laid out my pad and bivy a little way from the road behind some thin trees. I knew I would be spotted as soon as the sun came out, so I set my watch alarm for just before sunrise. It was a very uncomfortable spot, wedged between a slope and a boulder, and a chilly wind blew through the wash. More than once I was awoken by the ear-splitting screech of a big barn owl flying overhead, and I had a really strange night terror where I envisioned a big, black mass dropping on top of me from the trees, saying “Help” in an extremely low and menacing voice. I haven’t had a bad dream in years, so there was some bad juju in this place, and I was relieved when my alarm finally sounded off.
I quickly packed my things, and after finding a better hiding place and waiting for the park rangers to arrive, I strolled in through the entrance gate after it opened, intent on taking a long nap under some ramadas that were clustered near the pond. The park itself was nice, although quite small, with the pond in the center surrounded by cattails and a hiking trail that looped around it. A Chinese man was flyfishing on a pier near me, and every so often would start cussing the fish out in Chinese and English. Other than that, I slept a quiet couple hours.
Leaving the park, I was walking through a fairly developed area, that gradually turned into a city street with traffic lights and businesses around me. There was a bit of an ominous feel in the air, though, since the mountain directly to the southwest of Safford, the towering Mount Graham, was engulfed in flames on its crown and peak. Many times I saw fire and rescue helicopters carrying big buckets of water and flame retardant up to the mountain, but it looked like their efforts weren’t working very well.
While resting under a tree near a juvenile delinquent facility, a very pretty young woman and an odd-looking man with a slight limp in his gait began walking towards me from a nearby house. The woman stopped short from me about three paces away, while the man came up to me with a bottle of Gatorade. I said hello, and he offered the bottle to me. I took it and thanked him, briefly telling him I was walking to New York City. He didn’t seem to understand, and said, “Y-you’re… welcome!” I could tell, then, that he was mentally retarded in some capacity, so I just warmly went along with it. He and the woman walked back to the house, with her giving him a high-five and saying “Good job!” I think they thought I was some sort of hapless hobo, but I’ll take any help I can get.
Near 4pm, I reached the T-intersection where the 191 north terminated in downtown Safford and met the US70 going east-west, and I headed left towards a Safeway with a Starbucks in it. Previously, at the Super 8 in Willcox, the brother of an old friend of a friend of mine contacted me on Facebook and said he had some relatives in Safford who might be willing to let me stay with them for a couple nights. He wasn’t able to finish arranging a place by the time I checked out, so once I was in the Safeway using their wifi, I contacted him and he hooked me up with his aunt, who arrived to pick me up shortly after. She took me to her place a few miles away, and I was given a couch to crash on. She had no internet at her house, and the place was, for lack of a kinder word, a mess. However grateful I was for the roof over my head, I felt apprehensive about spending more than a night here.
In the morning, my friend’s aunt was gone when I awoke, and her mother came inside to wake up her grandson to take him to work. Neither of them even questioned who I was, and I was fly-on-the-wall to an extended argument about the son’s lack of initiative and irresponsibility in life. I played it cool, and after they left, I did my laundry and got out of there, leaving a thank you note on the kitchen counter.
Edge of the World
I walked a mile over to a Motel 6 and checked in for three nights, intent on using the time to catch up on my writing. But, like in Willcox, I found myself shying away from the work, and trying to find distractions. I wasted time, dropping out of contact with my friends and family. I bought two more nights, telling myself that I was going to start writing, get this backlog finished. Those two nights passed, and feeling some short of shame for spending so long in a single motel, I checked out and walked to another, cheaper motel down the road to the east, and purchased two nights.
I was lazy, lacking energy, and I didn’t leave my room except to go for food. I finally emailed my parents to let them know I was still alive, having not been in contact for over a week. They were both worried about me, and my mom had contacted the Safford police to look for me. They had checked the Motel 6, but I was too sneaky for them and couldn’t track me after that. I reassured them I was fine, and told them I would be in New Mexico to contact them again in about eight days, and not to contact the police in the meantime.
But I was doubting myself, doubting that I had the courage to do continue on. I made a video expressing my thoughts, but I can elaborate on it more succinctly here:
I had reached the edge of my world. Further than here, anyone I knew from Phoenix would have to spend at least five hours driving to see me, and that’s not something anyone can do on a whim, or even very often throughout the year. I had reached the end of the radius of what I could consider my “safe” zone, where I could call on a familiar face to help me out. What made me depressed, was that I thought going beyond the edge of my world would be easier than it was, that I would have more courage than I did, and in finding out I didn’t, I questioned whether I had any courage in me at all. Maybe the lion I saw in my mind all those years ago was just a lie, an illusion brought on by the drug.
I was wallowing in doubt and cowardness, afraid to take the plunge into the void of the unknown. Afraid to go beyond the limits of what was safe and familiar to me, afraid to truly become a stranger in a strange land. But after I made the video, I felt some relief. I had a great amount of guilt towards my audience weighing on my shoulders, feeling that I was failing them. But casting my thoughts out to them felt liberating, as if a confession, and I felt strong enough to keep going. I got ready to leave tomorrow evening, and went to bed with some hope in my chest. I decided I was going to make this adventure into something that could resonate with people, something… more. I would write about my inner thoughts and philosophy, telling the story of my struggle in the hope that my readers would find strength in my words, and maybe even decide to plunge into the void they were standing on the edge of.
It was a lofty idea, but it might work, crazier things have happened. There seems to be so much apathy and hopelessness in our world of late, someone has to stand against it, why not me? Even if I didn’t change the world, if I gave just one person the courage to rise above their fears, to realize this life is one grand adventure waiting to be had, I would succeed.