On Tuesday we talked about all the things that worked well on my trip. Now we get to talk about all the hilarious ways that I completely failed. This is the good stuff - it's more fun for you guys to hear about, and much more productive for me to write about.
Walking … is …. reeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaally ... slow.
Oh, was that a bit obvious to everyone else?
Just how slow? For me, it was 3 mph. No matter how strong or how weak I was feeling. 3 mph, no matter what. No rushing, no making up for lost time or a late start. 3 mph, end of story.
Even at 20 miles/day, 3 mph is a really slow way to get from A to B. At that pace, a walk to Chicago would take over two weeks. The slowness, for me, had two major drawbacks:
1) The pace was too slow for me to really feel myself moving through the landscape. The world doesn't change much over 20 miles, so I almost felt like I was standing still. I never really had this sense of “Wow, I just moved my body from Owosso to Ann Arbor”. Instead, I felt like I had walked for 6 distinct days, on 6 distinct paths that just happened to lead south.
2) Walking just one mile takes 20 minutes at 3 mph, which really cuts down on spontaneous off-path adventures. I walked by all sort of interesting people, businesses, and lakes that would have made great little mini "adventures within an adventure." On foot, though, those little skirmishes could add hours to my day - hours that I didn’t have. This element made the trip feel too rigid for my taste.
All in all, I think I may be more of a bike traveler than a walker. Sad, I know, since walking has much more ancient romance to it. For my taste, though, I think biking will provide me the sense of movement and freedom that I imagined when I first dreamed of taking a trip like this.
Knocking on Doors
The most adventurous part of this trip, as I discussed before leaving, was the fact that I didn’t have a confirmed place to sleep for the second half of the trip. I’d read about walkers and bikers knocking on doors and asking to camp in people’s yards, so that was my plan.
I arrived in Howell on my fourth day of walking, around 4 pm. I settled into the coffee shop and hoped that my unshowered self and 40 lb pack might lead to a conversation about my walk, a conversation that could casually transition into, “Oh yeah, and I don’t have a place to sleep tonight ... hint, hint.".
That wasn’t in the cards, though, and I left the coffee around 6:30 pm to go hunting for a friendly stranger. I wandered around a nice historic neighborhood in Howell until I worked up the nerves to knock on a door. After two no answers, I had a short and confused conversation with a nice looking woman, after which she delivered a simple and firm, "I don't think so.". I’m embarrassed to say that I was already feeling disheartened at this point. This didn’t feel like Couchsurfing, the sort of amazing fun and joy of falling into the arms of a generous stranger. It felt like begging, like I was making this woman uncomfortable and threatening her with my potential homelessness.
The next house I tried said no too, but only after a nice long and friendly conversation about my trip. The woman said she would just be too worried about me to sleep if I was camping in her backyard. She had a friend visiting who showed me a book he was reading about an eighty year old man who had been taking long walk in Michigan for years and years.
They were very nice and recommended that I try the church down the street. I liked that idea because I was really sick of knocking on doors and I thought that a church really really couldn’t say no. Again, though, it felt a little bit like blackmail: “I’m a Christian, you’re a Christian. We both know you are commanded to love the stranger. I’m a stranger - let me sleep on your grass.” In the end, I met a very nice man living in the rectory who let me camp on his lawn.
I think this part of the trip could’ve gone better if I was more confident or with a group. Something about being on my own made people nervous I think. I’m still really excited about the idea of heading out on a trip without knowing where I’ll be sleeping, but I think I definitely need more practice to make it a good experience for everyone.
A small point, but an important design element just the same. I love the idea of walking to see a friend in order to save gas money. It’s just the kind of absurdity that I love. I’ve designed my life around abundant time and freedom, which has often meant a sacrifice of income. This kind of trip is perfect then, because it requires lots of time and not a lot of money. Unfortunately I wasn’t very intentional about my budget and I think I ended up spending more on coffee and food in the cities I passed through then I would have on gas. Something to consider for next time.
This Just In: I am not a Car
By car, the Interstate is exhausting, state highways are boring, and paved back roads are total bliss. Beautiful country side, sensible driving speeds - I love it.
On foot, the Interstate is illegal, state highways are death traps, and paved back roads are noisy and monotonous.
I had not anticipated how huge this difference would be. In order to capture the peace I feel on back roads in my car, I ended up seeking out scarcely used dirt roads through the absolute middle of nowhere. The best route of my trip was through the intensely rural northern part of Livingston County, down dirt roads and past farms, Buddhist temples and lots and lots of horses.
Should Have Brought a Hat
Sun screen is not good enough when you’re in the sun all day everyday for almost and entire week. Should have brought a hat. Rookie.
Blogging is Not Living
Another brilliant insight, no? This one is right up there with, "Walking is slow.". Still, it was a huge break through for me. I've spent the past five years dreaming about crazy walking trips and reading blogs about people who go on them. I get a certain kind of excitement and nostalgia in my stomach when I read a really great blog post. It's vicarious adventure, the joy of well written prose, sharing a personal connection with the blogger.
That, my friends, is not how it feels to walk 20 miles in one day. Walking 20 miles is mostly hot, sticky, and painful. No beautiful videos, no nostalgia, no connection - just one mile after another, for hours and hours and hours.
How on earth did I think that reading a blog about adventure was going to be anything at all like going on an adventure? It's an absurdity. And yet, I was genuinely surprised. For years, I've read blogs as a substitute for going on this trip. It's insanity, and it's made me think deeply about my own blogging. What am I doing when I write? What are you guys doing when you read? What is this connection, and what is it not? If you have insight, I would love to hear about it in the comments. What do you get out of reading blogs? What do you get out of reading this blog? How is it different from writing a blog, and how is it different than living life completely undocumented?