Saturday, June 6, 2009

Rhythm of the Road

You know, this old world just,
Keeps on spinning around and around and around
And sometimes it just spins too fast
And you, you not only lose your balance
But you lose your rhythm and
It's at times like these that you just need to stop
And not only find your way again but find your own rhythm
Because life has a rhythm . . .
And mother nature has a rhythm . . .
And love . . . oh yes, love has a rhythm.
- Anita Baker, "Rhythm of Love"

Anita Baker sings about love. I write about walking. Both, undoubtedly, have a rhythm. Probably the most useful lesson I learned from my four days on the road over Memorial Day was that I enjoy the rhythm of the road. It is not always comfortable or soothing, but each day is a microcosm of the qualities I want to reconstruct my life around. For instance ....


At heart, I'm a morning person. There is nothing like the peace of the early morning hours, right after waking up. The world is still. My mind is clear. If I wake up early enough I don't have to be in a rush. I can listen to my breathing. I can meditate. I could even do yoga (if I teach myself some poses). Regardless, I found that each morning of my walk I woke up with an overwhelming sense of peace and purpose. My ideal would be to wake up at six, do some meditation, maybe 30 minutes of yoga and then take a luxurious shower. I'd pack my bag, grab some breakfast with my hosts and hit the road at 8am.


Seeing the world come alive from the shoulder of the road never fails to be awe-inspiring. Granted, I had four beautiful days over Memorial Day weekend. But there is clearly something transcendent about walking in the morning. The body is rested and well fed. The mind is sharp. The challenge of that day's walk is still fresh and spread out before me. I found that the first two hours of my walk - the first 7 miles I cover between 8-10am - are always the most memorable. It reminds my why I chose to walk rather than to ride or hitchhike or travel by any other means. The act of walking is deliberate and meditative and each morning I found myself looking at the world again with new eyes and feeling a deep sense of awe and wonderment. It is a much better state of mind to live in than fear and cynicism.


Each day I'm faced with a choice of where to eat lunch. Many times I didn't have that wide a selection. But I have committed myself to avoiding fast food chains as much as is humanely possible. On Friday I ate at a local pizza place called Mario's where I was the only one in the restaurant for most of my meal. On Saturday I got food from a local diner that I ate further down the road. On Sunday I had a short walk so I was able to eat with my hosts before leaving. Then on Monday I treated myself to a meal at a independently owned hoagie shop on Lancaster Ave. in Wayne. None of these eateries started with the letters "Mc" or ended with the word "King". On the road lunch is my primary time to rest and recharge for the afternoon. I try to make myself rest for an entire hour. One thing I would like to be able to do is eat lunch WITH people, but I'm not sure how I would do that. I guess it would take a little bravado on my part to approach people wherever I am eating, explain what I am doing and ask if I could eat with them. It has occurred to me that it would be nice to try and do that each day and pay for their lunch, as a bit of a karmic nod to giving back what I am so freely receiving each night from my hosts along the way.


No one over the age of 12 needs to be told that life includes its share of struggles. As much as we would like to surf through life experiencing only pleasant emotions, it isn't meant to be. Likewise with walking. Whereas the morning walks are meditative and peaceful, the afternoons often seem like a chore. Between 2pm and 4pm I have usually already covered anywhere from 11-14 miles and my mind is running out in front of me, wishing to reach its destination. That part of the afternoon is also the hottest, and on my Memorial weekend walk I had a couple of days where the thermometer bumped its head against 90. Because of the time of year I will be walking to New Orleans I won't have to face many of those days. But I learned that the rhythm of the road is not without its uncomfortable stretches. Those are the times I am reminded that sometimes life is about doing things that aren't pleasant and that it is useful practice to force myself past where I am comfortable and content in any given situation. Those feelings of deep fatigue, the pains in my feet or in my joints are always only temporary. And they give way before long to the best feelings of all.


Arriving at my destination each day was always a time of joy. Not only was it wonderful to see the people who were hosting me, but it was also a real feeling of accomplishment. I never failed to be humbled by the fact that my hosts (The Ryans, The Dzodzormes, Lisa & Diego, my parents) were so amazingly hospitable and welcoming to me. Walking into their houses, putting down my heavy load, sitting down and having a tall glass of water is a simple pleasure that could not be more enjoyable than when experienced after walking 20 miles underneath a hot sun. And the shower. Oh, sweet Jesus, the shower. Taking a long, cool shower and washing all the sweat and grime out of my pours and letting the water cascade down my back was a little slice of heaven. It occurs to me that during my journey these small things - a glass of water, a shower, being welcomed into a house - all became so much more significant and enjoyable. That spirit of appreciation and gratitude is one that I want to live in constantly.


In ancient times, one of the keystones of the act of hospitality was sharing a meal together. It is a beautiful and wonderful ritual. It is, hands down, what I enjoyed most about my 4-day walk and what I look forward to the most about my 4 1/2 month journey to come. After a long day to sit around a table and to be able to talk and commune with those who have been kind enough to take me in for the night is a privilege and a joy I will never take for granted. Meals are a wonderful opportunity to talk and get to know one another. It is a deliberate place of sharing and listening and showing love both through words and food. It is the place where the human bonds which connect us can be reinforced and strengthened. Each dinner I had - with the Ryans and their friends, with Del, Keli, David, Abby, with Ed, Ellen, Lisa and Diego and with my parents - was the perfect end to a full day. Not only was the food delicious, but the company of people who showed me love by taking me in and preparing a meal for me to share was overwhelming. This generosity and sharing is, quite simply, the side of people I could never tire of experiencing. It will be what sustains me, both physically and emotionally, from West Hebron to New Orleans. Those dinners will hopefully color my trip in a way that the simple act of walking by itself could never do in and of itself. This walk is about the people I meet and the love I experience through them.


I love sleep. But nights haven't always been my finest moments. The good thing about the rhythm of the road is that sleep comes easily. Very easily, in fact. Each night I would find myself yawning around 9pm. If I made it to 10pm I was lucky. I welcomed sleep and I rested wonderfully each night, knowing that the peace of another morning awaited me.

I know this all sounds rather idyllic and Utopian, but the fact remains that I couldn't have been happier with the experience of my 4-day road test. I know four days is a lot different than four months and, among other things, I didn't have to experience walking in inclement weather, but this preview showed me that this trip will provide a rhythm that I can live with and thrive in. Hopefully when it is all said and done I will be able to build a more conventional, stationary life back in NYC that draws heavily on each of these qualities. Time will tell.

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