(once upon a time I walked across America.
with no cell phone. and no media. and no support team. 3,349 miles in 154 days
January 22, 2002
The Desert, Southern California
Miles today:0 cumulative:0
I do not know if this is real or if I am tripping. The anxiety of this threshold is making everything feel like a hallucination.
Driving south, through the Mojave desert, we pass through Johannesburg, Four Corners, and Victorville, headed for San Diego and the Ocean. Anticipation and exhaustion are changing the weather. I see things out the window that can’t be real. Whole fields of plastic bags stuck to cactus and brush, like thousands of flags, snapping and tearing in the wind, like the sound you hear before entering the gates of hell. Red tumble weeds and road kill, strip clubs and an army of electric towers. Shaped like colossal robots, the army marches towards Los Angeles, pulling the world around with power lines that are anchored to some secret spot in the desert. This is how the world turns. I hope I don’t go insane the first day.
I never got the broken window in my van fixed, doing my taxes in the last hours before I walk, paying bills, moving old piles to new places, my life has followed me even here. Piles and piles and 500 scraps of paper with instructions for my life, receipts, numbers, names, lists of all the things I didn’t get done. I came here to escape the lists, but they are still in my pockets, in my backpack, on the dashboard, on the floor of my van. Blowing away when I stop for gas.
More desert hallucinations, more military bases, more strip clubs and convenience stores. Johnny Fox drives us south while I do my taxes. 90 miles per hour into Los Angeles, sunrays and smog, the video game interstate, suicide commute, 10,000 semi’s. Down Highway 76, towards Oceanside tracing, what I believe will be the first 30 miles of my walk. But this highway is actually a highway. I am from Wyoming so this idea is new to me. The traffic is bumper to bumper and going 80 mph, this is more like an interstate. The shoulders are small and the exhaust sweeps over the land like a rolling fog. There are signs that tell me that I cannot walk here, a red line through a walking man. That’s me. This is not where I want to start my journey. This is not the way the movie is supposed to begin.
The whole route changes. I am not starting today. Cut. Note to film crew: meet at undisclosed location tomorrow morning somewhere along the beach in Southern California. Everyone is confused, I am confused. Lets find a bar.
Thirteen miles south we find the First Street Bar in Encinitas. We being Johnny and I, there is no film crew. Johnny is my executive producer, driver, mental health counselor, and special events coordinator. He has planned an evening of frosty beverages and relaxation. Just hours ago I had my first panic attack.
“I don’t want to walk on highways, I don’t want to walk here, I don’t want to walk at all. I just fell in love, what if I lose her? I just got a house in Santa Fe, what if I can’t make my payments!? I just got sane, what if I lose it!!? What in the hell am I doing!!!?”
An Encinitas local joins us at the bar. Eric. The first story of thousands to come. If I really am going to do this, that is. Eric loves the Ocean, he surfs, that’s his story. “When you’re out there, and that wall of water is coming, every emotion in your body is telling you to turn around and paddle the other way, but you need to paddle towards it and see if you can get up over it. If you don’t make it, it’ll take you under and smash you on the reef.”
The girl, the house, my mind, my journey.
“IF YOU DON’T MAKE IT, IT WILL TAKE YOU UNDER AND SMASH YOU ON THE REEF.”
Tomorrow I will face the waves, but my back will be to the sea. To the West is the Pacific, and to the East, the American Ocean.