Sunday, May 24, 2009

Road Tested and Battle Weary

I'm two days in to my four day walk from South Bethlehem to Bryn Mawr. First, the good news: no injuries, only a couple of minor blisters, and my spirit is unbowed. Now, the bad: I have to go to work again on Tuesday. I wish I could stay out on the road. This practice walk is teaching me a couple of things, and one is that I will enjoy the rythym of my days as I walk halfway across the country. Although I often rail against it, I do well with a strict routine, and I am finding that I enjoy the demands of the road between 9am and 5pm, followed by the pleasures of company and rest with my hosts in the evening.

Speaking of hosts, I've been blessed with two wonderful home stays so far. In Quakertown I was welcomed with open arms by David & Jeanette Ryan. A little over a month ago I wrote David after going to the Quakertown United Methodist Church website and seeing that he was its pastor. David did not hesitate in extending an invite to stay with his family during my night in Quakertown. So after my 14 mile walk from Lehigh I was able to relax at his house with his family and a couple of close friends and enjoy an evening of good food and stimulating conversation. I mean, what more can you want from a day than a challenging walk followed by good company? In a nutshell, that is what I am seeking on this walk. On my first full scale "practice day" I saw that it isn't a pipe dream. There are people out there - like the Ryans - who will welcome a stranger into their house and show them the same care and concern they would to Jesus (sans the foot washing) or to an existing friend.  I hope that at the end of my journey I will be able to start repaying all the hospitality I am shown by giving the same to others in return. I think more than anything else, that is how this trip will change me - I'll be intensely aware of the opportunities to breakdown the walls that separate us and try to make friends of those strangers in need.

I got an early start on Saturday because I knew I had a mammoth walking task ahead. Google Maps had delivered the bad news that I had 21 long miles to tread before arriving at Del and Keli's. What Google Maps conveniently left out was that these were 21 hilly miles, thus mulitplying the challenge by an order of three. Add to this saucy mix that Mother Nature poked me in the ribs with another day with temperatures in the high 80s and it was beginning to look like a perfect storm, minus Marky Mark's full Maritime Beard. 

When you have 21 miles in front of you there is no reason to rush. The road will always be there, and there are always more steps to take. So I plod along, careful to hydrate and openly wishing that I had more interesting podcasts loaded up on my iPod. I've learned quite a few lessons in these first days, so I thought I would mention some here lest I forget them before August 30:
  • Sneakers aren't going to cut it. Lack of sidewalks and graded shoulders mean that I am often walking on an incline. Shoes with ankle support will be the order of the day. I need me some boots.
  • Walking seems less like a chore when I have a podcast or musical to listen to. It must trick the brain into forgetting about whatever physical stress the body is undergoing.
  • Sidewalks are few and far between. I must make peace with enjoying the shoulder of the road. The white line separating the car lane from the shoulder is my BFF. The wider that area is, the more I thank said transportation planner.
  • I can never drink enough water. In fact, I've been sweating from places I didn't even know could sweat, my back being the lead offender. 
  • If I am going to get a lunch to carry in my backpack for a couple of hours before eating it, a chicken fajita wrap with salsa probably isn't the best call.
There are other lessons and observations, but they elude me now. From time to time I write them on Twitter in real time, so you can check those out if you are really bored. But I warn you, don't expect any laughs. It's hard to be funny while climbing an endless hill and keeping an eye on the semi-truck headed your way on a narrow road. So hopefully you will settle for adequate spelling and good grammar.

I arrived in Sanatoga at Del & Keli's at around 4pm. I was tired. My feet hurt. But I had conquered one of the harder 21 miles hikes I will face and was still upright. I was welcomed by the whole crew, including my parents, and after a shower I felt rejuvenated. Cleansed from the soot of the road I was able to eat, drink and continue my ongoing 6-year discussion I have been having with Del and my father about homosexuality. Long story, but suffice it to say our conversation always seems to come back to this topic. We each have three distinct viewpoints and it is fun to go back and forth and explore each other's views without getting all attached to who is right and who is wrong. 

A quick aside - as I experience more of life I am starting to see that feeling like I am "right" in any given situation is kind of an intellectual conceit. My opinions are just that - mental constructs that for whatever reason I have settled on given my experience in life and how I have reflected on those experiences afterward. It no longer matters to me if someone thinks my opinion is wrong. It doesn't trigger a desire to make them see that I am, in fact, right and they are the ones who are wrong. That is a never-ending cycle of attachment to thought that can only bring frustration and sow discord among friends. I have some friends - like Endel and Claire - who I agree with on many things. Other friends - like Del or Andrea - hold some beliefs that are very different from mine. That doesn't have to make the bonds of friendship weaker. I have found that when I drop my attachment to being right, I can discuss any topic with greater internal harmony. The mind is a great tool, but a crafty one at times. If not careful, it can bring more problems than it does solutions. 

On to Phoenixville this afternoon. Total mileage:

Day One: Lehigh to Quakertown: 14.24 miles
Day Two: Quakertown to Sanatoga: 21.3 miles


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