For the first time since I conjured this mad idea in the waning days of autumn, I began to question what I wanted.Like any young man who had a ravenous hunger for storybooks when he was a kid, I harbored many grand fantasies of adventure and escape from the world I lived in. And I had certainly escaped that world, but I was unsatisfied. Though the act of walking across the land fed the flame of wanderlust I had burning in my heart, I found that wasn’t the only fire that needed fuel.
What has surprised me the most about this journey, is how much I enjoy seeing other people respond to the things I’ve written. For most of my life I shared very little of what I created inside my head, because of one baseless fear or another, but now that I’m posting articles for the whole world to see, I get just as much satisfaction from seeing other people enjoy my work as much as I enjoy creating it. Even if it’s just a simple “Like” on my Facebook page or on my website, I’m pleased that some stranger saw what I wrote and got something from reading it, even if it’s just a little thing. So now I feel a growing want to tell stories to people, to give them information and ideas that benefit their own lives, as working on my art benefits mine.
Which brings me back to the vexing question of what I want. While I was staying at the Poncha Lodge in Poncha Springs, I discovered that I wanted three things. The first, was that I wanted to write. A lot. Every day on the road was starting to become a day away from the keyboard, and in these last three months I have so much material in my head waiting to be worked on, I can’t possibly address it all in a meaningful way unless I stop moving for a while.
The second, was that I wanted to become stronger. Since walking the 43 miles in two days to Taos, a pain had begun developing in the tendons all through both my legs that was getting worse after every walking day. Feeling this pain confirmed a nagging suspicion that I had: my body was too weak for sustained travel. Thru-hikers and long-distance walkers must be able to sustain a 20-mile travel day for at least six days in a row, otherwise the winter snow will catch them before they reach their destination. I was lucky if I do two of those days before needing to rest for an equally long time. I had trained for a month before leaving, but it turns out that wasn’t enough. The muscles I have aren’t strong enough, and as a result, my tendons and ligaments are having to overwork themselves to keep up. I have, as much as I hate to admit it, reached the upper limit of what my body can do without further improvement. This weakness is eating into both my time and funds, and if I want to reach New York City at any kind of decent pace, I will have to devote serious time to exercise, which is something I can’t do on the march.
And the third, was that I wanted to make money. (More of a need, really, but let’s keep the theme going). Because of the amount of rest I’ve needed due to my aforementioned fitness, and how much time I like to spend in certain places before departing, my monthly expenses spent on travel meant that I can go another two months before running out of money. This is a problem, considering that (based on new calculations post-departure) I would need about four more months to get to NYC. Since I’m not doing this for any kind of charity or cause, I can’t expect kind donations to be able to sustain me. So, I need to do some work, probably in a kitchen or outside with a shovel; whatever I can find.
All this adds up to an unavoidable conclusion: I’m going to have call Denver my home for a while.
I realized all this while sitting in the courtyard of the Poncha Lodge, scant minutes before I supposed to set out for the day on the 17 miles north to Nathrop. Hell of a time to have a crises of conscious. The pain in my heels wasn’t going away any time soon, and for the first time since setting out of Phoenix I was not looking forward to walking. I simply didn’t feel like it. It was like when Forrest Gump suddenly stopped running across the country because he felt tired and then walked home. I had a Gump moment.
As I paced back and forth, mulling over what to do, a question a friend had asked me came echoing back to me out of the chambers of my memories: “Rogers, where are you right now?”
It was four autumns ago. I was standing in the backyard of a house in the desert of Sonora, beneath a powerful lightning storm that broke across the clouded sky, among some friends in the town of Gilbert. There was gladness among them, but I was downhearted. I was disconnected, distanced from they who were more content to stay in safety and comfort than have an adventure and test themselves. Though my body was there with them, my mind wasn’t. I was gazing up at the storm, throwing my thoughts to the gale above me, wishing I were just light enough to catch the wind and fly away. So what do you say when you’re both near and far away? I answered the only way I could. “I’m right here.”
And I very much want to be right here and now, where my adventure is beginning to take a firm shape and my thoughts are sharp and fresh, not stuck in the hazy mists of the past. Here and now, I have a mission to accomplish that I can’t succeed at if I’m constantly playing catch-up. So, to bring us both into the present, here’s an abridged version of what happened since the Cosmic Campground, told through pictures and snippets:
I hiked north up Saliz Hill, then, realizing I wouldn’t make it to the cafe/inn before it closed, hitched a short ride into Reserve.
I stayed in the village for a few nights, writing, resting and resupplying (as well as buying some nice threads from the thrift shop).
I met Sandy and Bergen, who drove me from Reserve to Socorro.
I bought new equipment, and attempted to hike north, only to be blocked by the Interstate highway.
I met a fireworks dealer named Evan, who agreed to drive me north the next day, but when the time came, he wasn’t there.
I rented a room at the Super 8, where the British desk clerk Stu helped me find a ride.
I got a ride into Belen from Ryan and Laura, two helpful strangers who were sympathetic to my journey.
I tried to walk to Isleta Village on the way to Albuquerque, but was prevented by a restricted highway access. So I hitched a ride from some Mexican plumbers, who pulled up next to me and said, “Hey gringo, hop in!” while flashing a smile full of silver.
I arrived in town and walked to the Barnes and Noble where, through perfect unintentional timing, met my friend Josh in the parking lot.
I stayed in the city for a couple weeks with Josh, at a motel, and with mutual friends Lisa and Neil.
Neil dropped me off at the start of highway 14, where I walked to the ghost town Golden, and slept on the grounds of an old church.
I then hiked to Madrid, where I met a young man outside a bar. He saw the equipment I was carrying. “Hey, I have the same duffel bag!”
He drove me to Santa Fe, where I met up with Brigetta, a member of the HEMA club back in Albuquerque.
We went to a hot springs in the mountains, and I stayed with her for a couple nights, then she dropped me off on the north edge of town.
I hiked to Espanola, opium capital of the West, gambled some money at the casino, then set out on the 43-mile road to Taos.
I slept behind an abandoned house in a place called Embudo, then hiked all day and part of the night to Taos, where I was too weary to continue and slept on a bus station bench.
I stayed at the Super 8 for a few nights, then got a lift up the road to the Rio Grande bridge, where I spent the night at a rest stop sleeping in my cart.
The next day I walked 20 miles to Tres Piedras, where I found the Chili Line Depot, a little restaurant-inn.
After staying there for two nights, I hitched a ride to Alamosa from Ted Conover, a professor of journalism at New York University and author of many books.
I tried hitching a ride further to Poncha Springs, but after a day and a half of no luck I packed my things and began walking across the immense Colorado plateau.
The first day I walked 20 miles, arriving in a village called Hooper. I found a church playground on the far side of town, and slept inside an old abandoned bus.
The second day, I walked 17 miles to Moffat, where I fell in with a New-Age farm commune who let me crash on their couch. We drove out to a bar in Crestone for some drinks later on. (Unfortunately, they didn’t want pictures being taken.)
The third day, I walked 12 miles to Joyful Journey Hot Springs, a resort spa in the middle of the wide-open plain. They had campsites available, so I stayed there for a couple nights, soaking in the hot springs and working on my writing.
I had developed a pain in both of my heels that was concerning me, so I got a ride from one of the maids to Poncha Springs. I ended up in the adjacent town Salida, four miles east.
And now, I sit in the common room of the Salida Hostel, among adventurers of all ages and backgrounds who are passing through this town.
In a few days, I’m getting a ride to Denver, where I’m going to gather enough money and strength to carry me to New York City. And when I reach New York City, I’ll start gathering again to carry me somewhere beyond that. And I know, this is a huge change of direction, and hitchhiking as much as am going to do is stretching the limits of what can be considered a “walk” across America. But it has to happen. I have to take this stretch from Phoenix to Denver as a learning experience, practice for the greater journey ahead. A solid walk from Denver to NYC is much better than a half-walk/half-hitchhike from Phoenix. And if my exercise and practice in Denver pays off, when I get to NYC I’ll be fit enough to walk again from east to west; because why not? As long as I’m traveling and writing, I’m living the dream.
It’s a difficult choice I’ve had to make, but I believe it’s the right one. Even though I’m putting the walk on a short hiatus, I’ll still be writing and posting articles, just of a slightly different nature. And thank you all for your support and encouragement so far, I’ll do my best to get in and out of Denver as quick as possible so I don’t lose too much momentum.
Upwards and onwards, to victory!