Sunday, November 30, 2008

And I Almost Forgot Our New Best Friend

The Home Stretch

As they say, all excruciatingly tiring things must come to an end. At least I think that's what they say...I'm too tired to remember, frankly. Yesterday was an absolute beast (as expected), starting in Boise, taking a two-lane road through all of eastern Nevada, and ending up in Flagstaff. Oh yeah, and there were brief dips into Utah and California, one of which was rewarding and one of which elicited the name "Texarkana" more than once. Nevada was incredibly humbling, and not only because I got a speeding ticket there (yeah, on a two-lane road in the absolute middle of nowhere, but hey). Regardless, we were travelling yesterday for the better part of 21 hours, which is quite a lot considering we were already working on less than 4 hours of sleep each.  And so in honor of my tremendous mental and physical fatigue, I thought I'd eschew the usual wordy story and just give you some of the highlights in pictures. As the week has wound on I've become more and more attached to the pictures as a record of our trip and more comfortable with letting them tell part of the story. Anyway, I've got  to jet. Two miles to our New Mexico walk. 

Saturday, November 29, 2008

A Modest Proposition

Imagine, if you will, the following scenario. For the last week you have been driving enormous distances, largely for the purpose of going on remarkably brisk walks that would seem to the outside observer only to punctuate the boring moments of driving. But you know that the walks are far more than half the battle (or, in the cases of Virginia and Tennessee, all of the battle). Although they average only a hair over half an hour, your walks have presented you with countless vistas, both of the beautiful and the bizarre. You have seen nature at its most pristine and civilization at its most basic levels. You have seen a cow drinking from an icy, white-watery river. You have been overwhelmed by the beauty of a sunrise over the gulf of Mexico and propositioned by a vagrant of questionable sobriety (and perhaps taste). You've been to the world's largest McDonalds and just another Taco John's. You have worried about the aligator warnings on the bayou just days before launching a ferocious bombardment of snowballs. You have attracted quite a lot of attention from domesticated animals of all shapes and sizes and nearly killed a similar distribution of wildlife. You have been forced to reconsider your position on the unholy union of gas stations and slot machines. You have lost a hubcap and upon returning your rental car will probably blame Texarkana. You have publicly urinated in some of the most beautiful spots on God's green earth. And yet you were not prepared for this.

You are walking in a state park just north of Spokane Washington. The sun has probably set, but you can't see through the dusk-grey blanket of snowfall to know for sure. The park is surely closed, either on account of the snow or the dark, but you are too busy fiddling with your camera's manual settings to think about that, in search of a decent photograph in spite of the conditions. You set out to walk your mile on a slippery ridge looming high above the Spokane River. Having reached the half-mile point you and your cohorts turn around. There is a person walking on the ridge-road in the opposite direction. Through the contrast-less evening you percieve that the person might be holding a large cardboard sign. Another whacko. Just look to the ground, you think. Out of the very extreme of your peripheral vision you just barely make out the largest word on the poster. Kyoto? Obama? War? No...Uvada.

If you have ever seen the original Ghostbusters you know all about crossing the streams. And at this moment, the streams have been crossed. Let me recap this for you in simple terms. Snowstorm. Wilderness. Dusk. Rural Washington State. Uvada? Uvada is a town on the Utah/Nevada border, one of countless towns across the country that have adoped a similar method of nomenclature. At this point we are all aware of Texarkana, but there is also Florala, a Marydel and, if you squint hard enough, a Calexico. The thing is that Uvada is a ghost town, at least according to the internet. You won't know for sure until later today when you walk there. While your brain is churning all this information at punch-card speeds the person drops the sign. It's Brian. The guy who started the trip with you, the one you had to drop off in Atlanta so he could go back to work. There he went, and here he was, back with the pack in a snowy state park on the Spokane River. Now that's a surprise.

You'll have to ask him, but it seems that Brian decided shortly after he returned to New York that he was missing too great an opportunity to abandon the effort and sit by the sidelines. Money and effort be damned, he would have to rejoin us as soon as he could, even if that would only win him back a few days of the trip. Actions like this should make the four of us, Philip, Dave, Dan, and myself, who have been on this adventure for the duration sit up and appreciate just what we're doing and just what kind of opportunity we've been presented. The evidence is all around us. Nishant asked to join us at the last second, if just for a couple of days. His penance would be having to fly the red-eye to New York for an important family gathering from the bustling Spokane airport. [FN 1] My Dutch friend Walter, was bound to join us until it became clear that if he did he would lose his job. And still he espouses regrets about not making it to be with us nearly every day. According to his math, Walter is the fifth Beatle, and I guess I can't argue that point with him. The six people I've mentioned were the only people "invited" on this trip, but literally dozens of otherse have remarked how they wish they could have taken a trip like this. Often these people are older and far more successful than us, but despite their successes they would gladly trade their places with us for this one week. I knew all that. I had even spent a reasonable part of the Idaho panhandle thinking about how badly I wish Walter had been able to come along. Here we four are, unanimously jaw dropped by our surroundings...and yet we're American and are at least familiar with much of what we're seeing. It would have been absolutely staggering for a foreigner.

And yet it wasn't until Brian showed up in the woods, in the snow, in the dark that our good fortune really hit home. Not just our good fortune in having the opportunity to partake in this adventure, but in the opportunity to do so with these kinds of friends. When reflecting back on our 48 State journey a long, long time from now, it's fairly obvious which we will remember the most.

[FN 1] And I should take this opportunity to note the tremendous thanks that I and the others want to extend to Nishant for making three days of our trip that much better.

Friday, November 28, 2008

"Where the Buffalo Roam," or "Four Feet From My Hurtling Minivan"

Every day of this trip has provided a different challenge. We've had walks in the pitch-black mountains of Georgia, the howling dogs of Oklahoma, and the questionably demilitarized zone that is the Texas-Arkansas border. Last night we faced a new challenge, one as difficult and more realistically threatening than any to date: not slamming into large cloven-hooved mammals at high speed. This sounds like a non-story, or at least an old one. We all face the challenge of avoiding an accident with deer, after all. I've even had the misfortune of taking out a fawn not three months after first obtaining my driver's license. But let me assure you that what we encountered last night was an order of magnitude more difficult. The problems started on a 200-mile long stretch of completely uninhabited backroads in the Dakotas that we had to take deep into the night. We had so many encounters with deer that I can't possibly remember the number. But the highlight of the evening is when we noticed large hulking masses of black fur gnawing on grass growing out of the shoulder of our narrow lane. Yes, our little minivan had careened through the stark, desolate night right past a small herd of buffalo. Our short glance of these American icons indicated no concern on their part for our Toyota. No, these were no "deer in the headlights," perhaps because they knew they would get the best out of any collision.

Various members of our party made a number of metaphors throughout our five-hour trip through the mammalian gauntlet: it was the battle road at Lexington and Concord where the Red Coat machine was slowly and meticulously dismantled by minute-men in the woods. The airport road in Bahgdad. But perhaps my favorite metaphor is the one that wasn't mentioned: the "Wind Done Gone" version of Frogger, that is, Frogger from the car's perspective.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Like a Beacon in the Great Plains

Somewhere in the twenty minutes between our missed Illinois exit and first opportunity to turn around we passed an rest-stop called "the Oasis." I'm pretty sure we ignored the significance of that name the first time we saw it, but on the back side of our u-turn its meaning became abundantly clear. Yet even that rest-stop was just an oasis for a 20-mile stretch of uninterrupted interstate. If you're in the heart of a 9000-mile journey you're going to need an oasis on a completely different order of magnitude. We found that sanctuary last night in Gresham, Nebraska. 

ItAdd Image is convenient that just past the midpoint of our trip we would find ourselves in Nebraska, a state whose conventional reputation is that of the classic flyover state. We know it better, however, as Philip's home. Having met Philip's family a number of times before, I was completely expecting our visit to be greeted with not just open arms but an abundance of com-
fort food and a peaceful, relaxing place to spend the evening. It helps that this was the first night where any of us got more than four hours of sleep, but I think it's fair to say that we're all both rejuvenated and extremely grateful to the Romohr family for taking us in.
 Now it is on to the northern great plains. 

P.S. Updates may be fewer and farther between, because out here the cell towers are definitely fewer and farther between. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Break

Only a three hour drive separates us from Thanksgiving Dinner. Till then...

International Efficiency Day

Today has been all about the time crunch. We have long planned to stop for thanksgiving dinner in Philip's hometown of Gresham, Nebraska and now that people other than ourselves are counting on our schedule, it was imperative that we follow through with efficiency and celerity. We got our usual late start, which didn't help, but our real problem today came as a result of a missed turn in Illinois, quite possibly our first of the the whole trip. A simple missed turn is usually not a problem, but in this case the next exit wasn't for another...18 miles. I honestly don't know if I've ever seen a longer gap between exits. And of course we didn't actually notice the missed turn until the brink of that exit, forcing us to turn around one stop further down the road. It would be another 9 miles. So, in order to get back to where we started we had to drive a total of 54 extra miles (remember, that's two exits), with an accompanying time penalty that was and is almost impossible to make up. After all, we can't really drive any faster, and it's not like we can sprint those miles. As such, we've adopted a temporal austerity plan, meticulously going through every step of our process and shaving our time down minute by minute. We had one particularly impressive gas stop this morning that would have looked to an outside observer like a NASCAR pit crew on vacation. It still looks questionable as to whether we will get to Nebraska at a traditional Thanksgiving dinner hour, but we're doing our best. 

Just Like They Drew it Up

Expectations are a funny thing. Yesterday two of our stops far exceded anything we had hoped for. The remaining three stops were not quite a disaster but certainly not quite what we had in mind when sitting at home last month browsing through atlases and Google Earth. It was a day with such stark extremes that the morning seemed like some vacation taken in 8th grade by nightfall. And then there are days like today, when pretty much everything we did exactly met our expectations. Aside from a single GPS issue in Tennessee everything operated like clockwork. Deadlines were met, destinations were interesting and easy to access, and my pictures came out (for the most part). Even our one blip, where our GPS led us astray in search of a TN state park, was easily rectified when we stumbled onto a civil war battlefield on our way back to the highway. The trail at Mammoth Cave, while not totally earth-shattering, was peaceful and enjoyable. 

I found the William Henry Harrison Gravesite
 particularly rewarding. The approach the site was exactly like it had been drawn up, to the point that I probably could have found the obelisk from the highway even without a map. We even got in just under the wire, beating the sunset by mere minutes. Once walking around the site we found not only an ornate grave to perhaps our most obscure president (he only served for a month before dying of pneumonia) but also a perfect vantage-point to take in the sunset over the Ohio River. Across the street, I was taken by the grave yard for a long forgotten city, the last remnant of a failed attempt to make "the capitol of the Great Northwest." Our trip is all about seeing America. Part of seeing America requires an appreciation of the starts and stops that were necessary to get us to where we are today. And I cannot think of a better way to appreciate them--the stops in particular--than by going to the beautiful tomb of a 30-day U.S. president and the graveyard for a city upon a hill that never quite took hold. 

Next up was a town park in Batesville, IN. Again, it was nothing out of the ordinary (aside from a large above-ground resevoir), but it's hard to argue with the inherant Americana of a town park gazebo. 
Our Niles, Michigan walk was similarly peaceful, as we walked along the shores of an icey river and again were greeted by near-perfect conditions for our standard walk-site's typical requirements for quick access, public parking, safety, and some level of memorability. 

Finally, we were able to pick up Nishant, the newest member of our travelling band. After carefully coordinating a place and time to meet, we decided on a whim to walk around Chicago. It was again not anything out of the ordinary, but part of me felt like we needed to walk in at least ONE "big" city. That's America too, after all, and we were not going to lose a lot of variety in abandoning tomorrow's plans for South Beloit, IL. We will still be walking in Beloit, WI, after all. How different can they be? That's my expectation, anyway. Yesterday's experiences told me that perhaps my expectations are not the most accurate predictors of future endeavors. But today told me that on some days, some charmed days, they hit the nail on the head. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

We Don't Make the States, We Just Walk in Them (and yes, they are different pictures)

Well, it couldn't last forever. To this point all of our state walk experiences have been a net positive. True to their states' reputed spirit, last night's walks in Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma appear to have rebelled from this trend. Our excellent experience in Fonatinebleau State Park energized us enough to try to make Texarkana, our destination for both Texas and Arkansas, by sundown. Unfortunately Louisianna's motorists did not cooperate. In fact they seem to have planned a coordinated effort to block our path just enough to guide us into the city limits at dark.
When we got there it was immediately apparent that this would not be a friendly nighttime stroll through a quaint town, as had been our experience in the New England states. It would not even be a depressing stroll through a town far past its prime, as had been our experience in Martinsburg, WV. No, it was readily apparent that the primary emotion we would connect with this particular stroll would be fear. Perhaps there are better, shinier parts of town, but the area around Stateline Road and its famous dual-state post office was dull, decrepit, and just populated enough to make it thorougly dodgy, to borrow a term from our British friends.

And dodge we did. After taking our two state pictures in record time ("switch!") at the bisected post office we decided to haul oursoulves AQAP--As Quickly As Possible. So we marched past one liquor store, two check cashing places (including a quaint abandonded drive-through called "Check Mate," complete with Knight logo), another three liquor stores, and then a few bombed out buildings for good measure. The street was far from abandoned--in fact it was well-seasoned with a cross-section of the dodgy demographic.[FN 1] We were approached a number of times, including a particularly memorable experience with a man making kissing sounds at Dan. To make matters worse, our extroardinarily brisk pace and its lengthened stride threw off our trusty but antiquated pedometers. It is also worth pointing out that the pace was brisk enough to cause my neurologically impaired left leg to seize up. I considered this a partial positive, because the exagerated limp probably made me look .0001 % more badass to the distant observer.

After Texarkana we drove as fast as possible to Oklahoma, where we had picked Tom, a tiny town at the extreme southeastern corner of the state for our walk. We had anticipated that this would be another questionable walk, but we didn't anticipate exactly why. Even when we reached Tom's single intersection--possibly the junction of the town's only two streets--and got out nothing seemed overly overwhelming. And then came the barking. First one dog, then another, then what seemed like dozens. The barks seemed to increase in violence with each passing moment. We decided to make this "a fast one" and picked the segment of the intersection's cross that had the most light. Not 100 yards in, however, we were faced with the blood-curdling snarls of a particularly ferocious canine. He seemed to enjoy playing a game where he would sprint, fangs barely gleaming in the nighttime light, directly at us, stopping at the extreme edge of his owner's property. He would then run back a few yards and repeat the process. What made this particularly intimidating is that given the darkness we could not really get a good look at the dog other than a sillouette that indicated he may have been a product of the Michael Vick puppy farm. We quickly turned around and chose instead to walk up the darkest segment of the cross, a completely uninhabited stretch with essentially no light of its own. This didn't really help, as we could still hear enraged dogs chargingat us through the surprisingly dense trees (who knew that Oklahoma has a national forest?). Just to make the experience perfect I twisted my ankle in a pothole filled with freezing cold water at the very apex of our distance from the minivan, aka the sanctuary from cerberus and his 18 closest allies. [FN 2]

Oh and then we had to drive six hours, well into the wee hours of the morning, to make Memphis. We were all a tad grumpy when we finally got in, perhaps in anticipation of our projected three hours of sleep. The beautiful beaches and bayous we had seen earlier that day seemed like a distant memory. But it is the quality of that memory that keeps us going. With an equally long day ahead of us today we will undoubtedly encounter something--anything--to renew our elation with the great 48-state adventure. As I said on our way out of Texarkana, "Hey, we don't make the states, we just walk in 'em." [FN 3]

[FN 1] It should be noted that we intentionally chose the street populated by a Whitman's Sampler of questionable characters--the side streets, while quieter, were even more sinister.
[FN 2] Although the twisted ankle had the interesting side effect of temporarily balancing out the exagerated limp I developed traipsing across Texarkana.
[FN 3] BTW this probably goes without saying but we don't hold our thrilling-for-the-wrong-reasons trips in TexArHoma against the states. We know it is largely a factor of our extremely tight schedule and demanding route. Still, little solace when faced with a hellhound or questionably-amorous drunk man.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Fontainebleau Ramblings

As I've indicated before, different people have different reactions when they hear about our trip. We just encountered someone at Fontainebleau State Park with a good reaction. After walking around the ruins of the former sugar plantation and a swamp boardwalk overlooking Lake Pontchartrain, we all headed for the restroom at the visitor's center. When we got there, though, we found the restroom locked and everything else shuttered. As some of us were about to explode, it was an unfortunate situation. All those acres of thick vegetation offered a tempting option, but we had just seen warning signs about cotton mouth snakes...stay on the path, they said. And while I don't know a lot about cotton mouth snakes, I know enough to know that's not something you want sneaking up on you while you answer the call. 

Frustrated, we were about to leave when we saw some motion inside the darkened visitor's center. We knocked, and out came a young park ranger. He graciously unlocked the bathroom for us, and while we went in one by one the others talked to him about our trip. He seemed truly fascinated, and in turn he told us to follow him into the 
visitor's center. It turns out that it was a brand new building and they were just putting the finishing touches on the exhibits and store inside. Excitedly he showed us a 600 year old 18-foot long dugout canoe that somebody had just found. It was still in its packing box, and as the son of a museum curator (who has had a long professional interest in Native American art and archaeology), I was very impressed. Not just by the amazing quality of the artifact, but by the way the ranger opened up to us when he heard our story. 

The Pack Loses a Top Dog and Other Notes

Sadly, last night we had to drop Brian off at the Atlanta airport, as he needed to go back to New York for work. To say that we and I in particular appreciate his efforts in joining us up till that point would be a massive understatement. So, Brian, <-- this one's for you.

We are currently driving from Biloxi, MS to Fontainebleau State Park in LA. Although we got a late start, this morning has gone swimmingly. The cross-border walk in Atmore, AL and an unincorporated area near Bratt, FLA was excellent. We found a sm-
all side road with virtually no traffic, beautiful skies, and even our white whale, public parking half a mile from the border. It was simultaneously a peaceful and invigorating way to start the day. Except for the dogs. All along the Alabama portion of our walk (where, unlike the Florida portion, there were houses) dogs of all shapes and sizes took a keen interest in our journey, or at least an interest that we stay as far away from their little kingdoms as possible. Most of dogs were not overly threatening, although on our return we encountered a--I almost want to call them a pack--of big, snarling dogs. Needless to say, the dog photographed here was not one of those dogs. 

Also, wanted to mention the context of last night's "ghost" picture. Our plan had been to take a nice leisurely stroll in the Georgia woods during the late afternoon. Unfortunately, mother nature didn't play along. When we got to Tugaloo State Park it had just closed for the evening. But, intrepid trespassers that we are, we found a trail starting near some lit tennis courts and heading up into the hills. Armed with a few flashlights we cheerily marched into the woods. We only had to walk a half mile, right? Ah, but what a dark, creepy, and strenuous half mile. After a few hundred yards everything was pitch-black. To make matters worse, the steep path was completely obscured and made slippery by the thick cover of fallen leaves. The important thing to take away from this: the Blair Witch Project is coming off my Netflix queue. 

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Yeah, We Own the Night

Georgia was...interesting. More TK. 

Satiated and Conversated in the Tar Heel State

Among the mid-South states we hit up today, perhaps none was more gratifying than North Carolina. As a graduate of both Duke's undergrad and law programs, I've spent a lot of time in Carolina, and I've got
 to admit I've missed the First In Flight license plates. Our time in the state was defined by two stops.The first was Cumberland Nob in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The park is technically closed for the season, but we went in anyway. The area closest to the road was largely "civilized," with numerous spots for campers to park and enjoy a good barbecue. Wandering around a bit we found a large field with an excellent view of the misty Blue Ridge. Perhaps inspired by the suddenly temperate weather, we decided to go back and grab Philip's football. For the next 20 minutes or so we put aside all thoughts of our stately marches and had a good, simple time in the sun. After all the stress of the first few days it was a welcome break.

Inspired and hungry, we decided to look not to fast food restaurants for lunch but good old fashioned barbecue. For the uninitiated, I don't mean the burgers and hot dogs kind of barbecue. I mean pulled pork in a vinegar-based sauce, collard greens, hush puppies, sweet tea, the works. Figuring any good town in North Carolina would have its fair share of appropriate establishments, we stopped in the first town we crossed, Statesville. Ultimately we found a Greg's Famous Barbecue, which apparently is, well, famous. The food was ok, but the people were great. "You wanna watch the game?" the waitress asked, pointing to a tv. We politely declined. "I see," she said, "you guys are happy just conversatin'." Moments later she returned to demonstrate to our New Yorkers the greatest of southern institutions, free refills. For those of us with North Carolina roots this was all a great culinary trip down memory lane, and for those new to the world of pork butt...well, let's just say this was Dan's first hushpuppy and he liked it.

While not nearly as adventurous as some of our earlier or later state adventures, North Carolina deserves its own post for the way it relaxed us and helped us back on a straight path through the 48 lower states.

Retracing Confederate Steps, or "Why it Pays to Have a Bathroom at Your Gas Station."

It is time to broach a very sensitive subject: my bladder. I'll wait for you to stop giggling. Done? Sure? Ok good. So here's the deal. One of the functions I've lost as a result of my MS is normal bladder control. Sometimes I can't go at all, sometimes I have to go immediately. And by "sometimes" I mean constantly. All day, every day. I have basically surrendered my ability to decide the wheres and whens of the world's most regular bodily function.

And so it was that I had to surrender this morning on our way to the New River [FN 1] in Virginia. I first gave a warning.

"Uh, guys, might have to stop to use the restroom soon."

"How soon," someone asked.

"Half an hour?" Not five minutes later I was hopping up and down on my seat. "Let's take the next exit...I could also use the urinal, I guess." Yes, I brought a urinal. A selection of them, in fact. The thing is, occasionally nature calls me EXTREMELY loudly and completely out of nowhere. Sort of like that alarm clock that completely obliterated my world yesterday. But anyway, in this instance I was not quite ready to cross that bridge...I just wanted to impart on my fellow travelers the urgency of the situation. Either that or I was gently threatening them with the prospect of hearing that plastic tinkle that few twenty-somethings have heard, though most recognize. Minutes later we pulled into a shiny new gas station in Hanging Rock, VA.

I jumped out of the still-moving minivan, ran inside, and asked for the restroom. The attendant, a fairly scrawny guy (pot, kettle) grumpily told me that it was out of order. That explains why the gas is 10 cents a gallon cheaper than the place across the street, I thought as I ran right back out the door at an even faster pace. I stopped Dave from getting gas and we darted across the street to a much older looking service station. The attendant there, a genial older fellow, told me with a strong southern accent where to go. And go I did. Relief was at hand.

Afterwards, I mulled around the store. I felt almost guilty--not because I used their bathroom and hadn't bought anything but because my first inclination had been to go to the shiny new gas station across the street and not what likely a venerable \refueling institution. The guy behind the counter was so nice that I found myself adopting the trace Southern diction that I picked up during my 7 years at Duke. I'm not ashamed to tell you that a "y'all" might have been dropped.

After picking up a few unnecessary items I went back outside, where I noticed what appeared to be...a trailhead. Yes, at the far corner of the parking lot was the trailhead for the Hanging Rock Battlefield Trail. Some quick cell phone research informed us that this trail and its environs were the site of a Confederate victory in the Civil War. We had to walk it, plans be damned. The trail itself was a very pleasant and roughly-hewn path along a ravine carved out by an icy stream. A number of us noted how much faster and easier the walk seemed than some of our earlier efforts, which often entailed dodging hurtling pickup trucks. It's a lesson to keep in mind when pursuing our future routes.

All in all, a very good experience. I guess I owe my bladder an apology.

[FN 1] An interesting name, given that it is reportedly the second oldest river in the world, behind only the Nile.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Thoughts on Our First Full Day

After a 17 hour day where we walked 8 states, I'm now resting comfortably in a Motel 6 in Harrisonburg, VA. Those of you keeping score at home will know that we've already detoured from our meticulous schedule, shifting things around in a way that will help minimize the impact of our early "long" days. To give you an idea, today's 17 hour schedule is not a "long" day.

And still, I'm extremely tired. My legs hurt, my throat is killing me, and I've got some major-league fatigue. [FN 1] Yeah, already. That's what a couple hours of sleep will do when combined with fairly substantial physical strain. I'm sure everybody's going through this--but I also suspect it's hitting me a little harder. But this is what I signed up for, and I've got to take measures necessary to mitigate such problems in the future. The first thing's first: I need to sleep more tonight (which necessarily means I'm going to have to limit this blog post.

Before I cut things off, however, I want to relay a conversation I overheard the others having when we were finally pulling into Harrisonburg. Philip was asking around the minivan what was everybody's favorite state. There were different answers, and each represented a different facet of why this trip has been so great. Dave liked the tiny island in Maine best. There's just something great about struggling to find a mile to walk on a 1000 foot island, all while the pizza we ordered at the island's sole business is being cooked to perfection. Philip preferred our walk in New Jersey, which was located at a town park (Davidson Mill Pond Park) devastatingly off the tourist path. In fact, if it were on a tourist path it would surely disappoint. But being off that well-worn path, it was a revelation. I must be a sucker for sentiment, because my favorite walk so far was the trek across the fields and brambles of the nursery. On one hand it was a little depressing, because in recent years the terrain has changed--dramatically in places--from what I remember in my youth. At the same time, I felt a connection to land I haven't really rambled across in years. I've been talking a lot about how important the concept of "local" is to this trip, and, well, this is my local. It's not just my town, it's my childhood. In a trip of exploration and experimentation, this was my control.

Ok, I really need to hit the switch. A thousand miles of road await tomorrow. Atmore, Alabama, here we come.

[FN 1] BTW that was a completely unintentional use of two consecutive rhyming words ending in "gue." If it was intentional I'd have probably crafted a line decrying "major league intrigue fatigue."

Our Henge is Also Stone

Three of us--myself, Dan, and Dave--were fortunate enough to have members of our family join us on our New York walk. This time our mile was across the back fields at Poundridge Nurseries, my family's business for the last 80 years. It would have been great walk regardless, but it was doubly so considering the familial company. We've also taken care of CT and NJ since the last post. On to the Small Wonder, Delaware. 

From a Reader

"Seeing last night's post reminded me of the following:

'And so it came to pass that word went out the length and breadth of Greece that Jason was looking for shipmates to embark upon a perilous but glamorous adventure. And in spite of the miniscule chances of anyone surviving to lay eyes upon the Fleece let alone get past the guarding dragon and return with the prize, large numbers of heroes were ready to run the risk. These were known as the Argonauts, after their ship, the Argo.'

Henceforth, then, you and the gang shall be nicknamed 'Jason and the Argonauts.' Godspeed."

Given how great everybody's been so far, it's a hard point to argue.

Just Another Day at the Office


You know that scene from every boot camp movie? You know, the one where the recruits are blasted awake in what still seems to be the night?


Friday, November 21, 2008

Mainely New Hampshire Indeed

It's almost midnight, and we're driving back to Boston for the evening having taken care of three states -- New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont. There will be more come on each state, but right now I'm just trying out the "blogging from the car" thing. I also wanted to raise two housekeeping points:

1) For up-to-the-minute updates on our situation, be sure to check out Dan's Twitter feed at

2) We are officially picking up our first straggler. Previously-referenced Nishant S, lifelong friend to some of us on the trip, is going to join us for 3 days of our trip starting tuesday. What's more, there's an outside chance that our friend Walter will crash the party bus/minivan from Holland, of all places. If that comes to pass, this is going to be one seriously cozy vehicle. 

Going Local

After months of planning, our trip is set to begin in a few short hours. Before I even wake up, Dave will be boarding a plane to Boston and the New Yorkers will be hitting up a bargain bus. Right now, however, I'm thinking about the many ways our big walk has changed over the past few days. Not in the practicalities or the details--they have been static for some time. The difference is that now we've got a whole new audience.

Throughout the planning stage of our trip, the only people who knew what we were contemplating were those closest to us--our girlfriends, families, etc. Things have turned up a notch this week as a result of our new-found goal of raising money for the Accelerated Cure Project. With the tireless help of my sister Maia we were able to secure a number of small-scale interviews in the media, mostly with small newspapers (and one huge radio station) from across the country. As these articles have started trickling into the public, and as we've ratcheted up our own campaign of alerting friends, more and more people have taken the time to write to me (or my sister) and lend their support to the big trip.

Among this flurry of communication I've noticed an interesting pattern: almost everybody talks about the state where they are from. Specifically, an amazing percentage want to know where we intend to walk in said state. Just in the last 24 hours I have been asked about Michigan, Kentucky, Delaware, North Carolina, California, Maryland, Florida, Texas. [FN 1] Often the person doesn't simply ask about a state by name, either. They use the nicknames. I had to laugh yesterday when, within two minutes, I got separate inquiries about our plans in the First State and the Bluegrass State.

I also noticed an unsurprising if related trend trend in the questions I've been asked by the various local newspapers. Sure, they all want to hear about our plans and my condition, but each has featured really targeted questions about what we are going to do in their state. Perhaps nothing exemplifies this more than the Nebraska interview which was conducted not with me but with cornhusker-for-life Philip. As I said, though, it is unsurprising that the newspapers would seek to push a local angle--heck, one of the papers' website is called "," after all. But combining this angle with the nearly universal state-specific requests by our acquaintences has really emphasized in me just how "local" this country is, and just how rewarding it will be to try to get a sense for it across 48 states.

It is fortunate, then, that our plan involves few, if any, widely recognizeable landmarks or attractions. Honestly, the Herbert Hoover Memorial is probably the most well known, and that's saying quite a lot. Instead, our focus has been on local nature preserves, quiant city streets, and a significant number of town parks. I sought out town parks in particular because I wanted to go somewhere that is vitally important to the people who live in a town but completely ignored by everybody else. This week's experiences--specifically the local flavor of our interviews and e-mails from long-lost friends--have only made me more intrigued and excited to be a tourist who seeks out a truly "local" experience.

Anyway, it's late and I still have much to do in the morning before those wheels do in fact start rolling. The next time I write something, it will likely be from the back seat of a minivan. Until then.

[FN 1] If you're wondering (and who would blame you if you weren't), I've listed the state requests in order of how long I've known the person asking. In some cases that has been a very long time indeed. Twenty-six, twenty-seven years. Even somebody who was among my best friends in early elementary school but whom I haven't seen since. A testament to both the universal appeal of our trip and the power of modern social networks.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Basic Route

A number of people have asked us about our route. As you might imagine, it's fairly complicated. For the moment, however, I'm posting this extremely primitive illustration. [FN 1] We'll have a lot more detail later, hopefully with better maps. Also, I will be posting a final "pre-trip" entry some time tonight. A lot of interesting things have happened over the last few days. 

[FN 1] For example, you can largely ignore all those little lettered tags on the map. While we are in fact stopping all those places, I could only fit in half of our walk sites--I guess google maps isn't used to people taking 9000 mile jagged trips. But at least the route is accurate.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Accelerate the Cure - How to Help

A number of people have asked if they can donate money "for the cause" in connection with the big trip. And although I am not in this explicitly to raise awareness of MS or funds aimed at its cure, I recognize that this is as good an opportunity as I've ever had to do just that. As a result, I'm encouraging everybody who wants to give a little in support of the hundreds of thousands of people like me who suffer through this terrible illness to give to the Accelerated Cure Project. While other MS charities may be more well-known, none that I'm aware of are better dedicated to the goal of not just alleviating the symptoms of MS but actually curing the disease. Call me a dreamer, but that's what I'm talking about when I say let's all get together and do something about MS. My sister has been kind enough to organize this effort and has set up a page to explain the donation process for Accelerated Cure a little better. Please visit it at:

I'm not even sure if the Accelerated Cure Project knows we're doing this fund-raising (although they did send us some shiny white t-shirts for our trip), but I guess that's not really the point. So please, help if you can. Thanks.

Wanderlusting the Impossible

Today Philip and I went on our big pre-trip shopping spree. Antifreeze? Check. Flares? Check. Face masks for me to wear in case somebody gets sick? [FN 1] Check. Among our many stops was Autozone:

Philip - Do you guys have a serious roadside emergency kit?
Clerk - We've got one in aisle 3, back left.
Jordi - Yeah, we saw that one. Not serious enough. We're looking for something a little more industrial strength.
Clerk, looking at our collection of purchases - Wherrrr...where are you guys going, like New Hampshire?"
Philip - Yeah that and the other 47 states (sic). In nine days.
Clerk - No way. That's impo--
Jordi - Yup.
Clerk - --ssible. No way.
Jordi - Well we're gonna do it.
Clerk - Right, well I want you to send me a postcard from each state. Or like a picture showing what time it is there. No way.

This is a typical reaction to news of our drive. It's one of two we get, actually, the other being complete nonchalance. But for the most part the predominant reaction is incredulity. And I'm here to tell you right now that it is in fact...well, it's "possible." We've worked it out. We've got a route. We've got stops and everything accounted for but chance. Yet what makes our trip so great is that the task is just barely on the bleeding edge of "possible." The more Philip and I plan it out, the more stressed we are getting about how we are going to reach all of our destinations on time. The more we think, yeah, we can do that...probably. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Martinsburg, West Virginia. Atmore, Alabama. Memphis, Tennessee (via Oklahoma). Beloit, Wisconsin. Gresham, Nebraska. Bozeman, Montana. Boise, Idaho. Flagstaff, Arizona. Denver, home. Those are our nightly stops (optimistically assuming that we will be able to actually stop every night), with extraordinarily far-flung waypoints in between. When you just look at map, it seems impossible.

But the math says we can do it and, more importantly, experience says we can do it. Three experiences, actually, two mine and one somebody else's. The first happened back in 1999 when my friend Nishant and I decided to take a friendly weekend trip up to Cooperstown, NY to see the hall of fame. After touring the museum and wandering the town endlessly we found ourselves a bit bored. So we moved on. To Pittsburg for a Pirates game, Cleveland for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Erie for a Seawolves game (don't ask), Toronto for the CN Tower, and Montreal for the Casino du Montreal, all in one weekend. It was a great experience in countless ways, the one most applicable here being that you can in fact do a lot of interesting and memorable things in a very short span of time.

The second instructive event was my walk this summer to all five boroughs of New York City. This was on July 4, the 3rd anniversary of my initial hospitalization for "neurological dysfunction." Every year since on that day I have attempted some significant feat of walking...sort of my friendly way of saying f&!@ you to the disease. This year I found myself in New York for work and hatched the boroughs plan. When all was said and done, we (myself, Brian, Philip, and my sister Maia) had marched off the better part of 18 miles. I had demonstrated to myself not only that I could still walk a long way, but also that a self-imposed challenge could push me even further. And so my wanderlust was born, but what would my next goal be?

I unwittingly came across my answer a few weeks later when I read about three guys who had driven through all 48 states in five days. They never stopped for the night, obviously, but it showed that one could in fact touch all the states in a relatively short amount of time. [FN 2] So this third experience showed me that such a trip would be possible. I finally put all three together in September, when, as I described earlier, my health situation drove me to do something (and go places) dramatic.

I convinced the others based on the three stories above, combined with only the most basic back-of-the-napkin number-crunching. It is in fact possible to drive to all the states in 120-plus continuous hours. I can--we can walk a long way in a short period of time, especially when driven by a goal. And we can have fun and see a lot of memorable things in a very short period of time.

Now, having spent countless hours with Google Maps, Google Earth (for finding places to walk), and some good ol' atlases, we know how ridiculously close we are to trying the impossible without actually crossing that threshold. When I used to tell people about my trip plans and they'd say "yeah, right," I'd happily tell them that it's very doable. Today in Autozone I was probably a bit less convincing. But we're going to do our darndest to prove that doubt wrong for good.

[FN 1] Yep, face masks. I need 'em because the chemotherapy I'm on dramatically lowers my immune system's ability to fight infections to the point that one man's cold very well may be Jordi's hospitalization order. See "Jordi's Decimated February, 2008" or "How the Office Bug Nearly Killed Me."

[FN 2] In fact, the grand scheme of our route is loosely based on their route. Ours is necessarily longer, as we needed to accommodate our walking requirements, but we are indebted to their method of zig-zagging our way westward. Check out their website at

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Day -9. Or -8. Something like that.

"See America First." It's a saying that's been in use for more than a century by the railroads, the National Parks Service, even Cole Porter. The traditional meaning is simple: before you go spending your time and money vacationing in Europe and other purportedly exotic locales, take a moment or a month to stop and consider the majesty and diversity of this land of ours. But "See America First" has a bit of a different ring to me. To me it means "See America Before It's Too Late, Before You Can't Walk, Before You Go Blind." It is a one-line muse, a stand-in title for the little adventure I plan to take over the next few weeks.

This past August was a rough month. Among other things, I was having a tough time walking and my eyesight appeared to be dwindling fast. As you may know, but as the record doesn't, I have MS. [FN 1] Not your run-of-the-mill Multiple Sclerosis, either, but some sort of weird Progressive-Relapsing hybrid that has seen me deteriorate at a much faster rate than is "normal" among MSers. So back to August. My legs were weakening, my eyes were blurring, and I was scared. What if a year from now I can't walk any more, can't enjoy a nice stroll in the country? What if I can't see the soaring birds and the blue sky and the post-industrial wastelands? What if I run out of sentimental questions to ask and just live in a world of static darkness? I couldn't control the answers to these questions, but I could try to preempt them by doing something I would remember forever, no matter what my condition. Light on funds but heavy on creativity, I decided a "possibly-final roadtrip" would be in order. Something truly extraordinary. Here's what I came up with:

I'm going to travel to every state in the continental United States in one shot. Nine days--the maximum I can go without taking more than a week off from work. And in that time I'll see Alabama and Vermont and Idaho and Iowa. It's a pretty tall task. Just think: if I spend one hour in each state, that's going to take up 48 of my 216 total possible hours for the nine-day span. Four and a half hours in each state would take up literally all of my time. So this thing is clearly going to be rushed. How, then, will I avoid a fate of whisping through Delaware on I-95, never really seeing anything other than the Wilmington skyline and a rest-stop zooming by? By demanding that I walk one mile in each state.

Given a brisk pace, even the cane-toting me can cover a mile in fifteen minutes. And I can hardly think of any way to better appreciate the qualities of a state in just fifteen minutes than by spending that entire time walking, looking, absorbing. Given the right routes, I think I can see an incredible amount of America in those mere 720 minutes.

It's certainly going to be a tough task, one I could never accomplish on my own. And so I was able to rope in four of my best friends to come along for all or part the ride. Given the unbelievable effort we're facing--think 18 hour days if we're lucky--this was a minor miracle and testiment to the quality of friends that I have. Here's a quick cast of characters in no particular order:
  • David D. A computer programmer from DC and somebody I've known since Punky Brewster was in its original run. There's a reason why he was the easiest sell on this trip.
  • Philip R. A fellow Boston lawyer, my current roommate, and cartophiliac.
  • Daniel L. A small business owner in NY and a dreamer of the same order as me.
  • Brian C. A NY banker (but who knows these days) with an incredible talent for logistics.
So that's the group. A good group, by any measure, but a great group by the exacting standard of this trip. I know it sounds crazy today, on day -9 or -8 or whatever day it is, but I think this trip is going to be the most memorable, interesting, and revealing thing any of us ever does. That may sound a bit bold to whoever is reading this, and I may be proven very wrong. It may, in fact, be just a lot of driving and running around. But as we have plotted the trip to ever-higher resolutions it has become more and more clear that we're going to see things in our country and in ourselves that we'd never imagined, or at least noticed, before. It's going to be a challenge--our brutal schedule and my equally brutal nervous system will guarantee that--but, as Philip has been pointing out with increasing frequency, it's also going to be an adventure. And that's something you don't come across every day any more.

In the coming days I will intermittently write about the preparation for the trip. But be sure to check back between November 21st and 30th, 2009, as I will hopefully be keeping everybody fairly up-to-date about my little project, my adventure, my attempt to See America First.

[FN 1] Multiple Sclerosis--ahem--"is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the central nervous system" etc, blah blah. Basically my immune system, along with other possible mechanisms, is destroying my spinal cord, brain, and optic nerves. There is a broad spectrum of patient experiences with MS. Some people go their whole lives barely noticing it while others become paralyzed and die, often indirectly, as a result of their condition. I'm not that bad, but I'm definitely closer to the latter side than to the benign side of things. To keep my situation from deteriorating further, I undergo an aggressive regimine of chemotherapy--yup, the same stuff as for cancer, although dosed differently. I must admit that it's been a fairly horrible experience, but it has worked to some extent. More TK, I'm sure.