WhiteCrow Walking

My solo walk across America began in Maine. I walked for nearly 3 years carrying a backpack and facing countless dangers, as well as met wonderful people I could have never made it without. From bullets to bears I moved through mountains of snow and across burning desert country. The end result will be a book, and the fruition of a childhood dream. This is a blog from the field with rough stories about my steps along the way.

30 March 2006

Sweetwater TN...and Still Walking

Heat is already here. Not too hot to just stand and breathe, but I seem to move too much. Wet clothes by 10 a.m. Ugh. Walking tar with a backpack calls for a cart load of water here in March. That'll be a wagon load by summer. Maybe I should have swam somewhere. No. I'd hit ice, or sharks. Or sharks on ice. I'll keep heading for the boot state. New Orleans? We'll see. Based on word of mouth, it doesn't look good for the far south living in the woods like I do. I'll keep you posted. Again, sorry I can't share more now. I'll keep looking for libraries. My journal is getting fat with a need to share.
From sleeping deep in a cave in a snow storm, to a visit through charming Townsend, and the Smokies, I have covered alot of ground. The good news is that the bears didn't get me ...or my food. The bad news is that the library closes in six minutes.

Thank you all for your warm and encouraging emails. I will write notes out as soon as I can. Thanks again for staying with me.

Jesse WhiteCrow
31 Mar 2006

17 March 2006

Living In Pictures, Jonesborough TN

Black clouds move their chairs over this Norman Rockwell town, preparing to sit and give up a bit of rain. From the Cranberry Thistle Coffee Shop in downtown Jonesborough I sip their brew of beans as I have every morning for three days. They are very kind, trying to feed my pack as much coffee as they pour in me. I'll love the fresh beans on the trail. As I write, Nancy whisper's to locals about what the walker at the computer screen is doing after he passes through their town. My feet are wiser dogs now. They lie under the table and sleep while they can. They stretch, yawn, and then roll from one side to the other. Dogs know when the rain is coming. Words more than clouds of black hold me in this wicker chair. It is the first week of camp and I am in love more than this trail heart can bear. Trouble is that I am so over stimulated I don't know which pretty girl to carve out my heart for. Yesterday I walked these streets of photogenic facades feeling like I was home in Stockbridge Ma, or Great Barrington. I walked into The Lollipop Shop on Main to look at all the treats, and vintage reproduction children's peddle carts and trikes. Grabbing a handful of dark chocolate, I made for the register. My pack was back at the Franklin House, so this man didn't know my face or story. With a tender smile the older gentleman simple said, "No charge." With my feet under this desk I am still running way ahead of myself.
This town was not a notch on my compass. Coffee. The magic walking bean became my magnetic pull that made my inner needle wiggle. "OLDEST TOWN IN TENN." Thats how the sign read as I broke from intent to desire. On the right as I came into history I saw a library on the right. Many days had passed since I had last found a computer. A week? Tapping computer keys was another fix that I needed to fill.
At the counter of the library I gave a quick introduction, never sure how I'll be recieved. It was not the laying out of words with thought. As a cowboy claps the dust across his pant legs with his leather gloves before entering a house from the trail, I have words that I clap against my sleaves to take the road from my shirt. Quickly, questions come to me from the ladies gathered at the back tables. There are many smiles. Smiles are good. At a computer screen that still reflected me pulling notes from my journal bag, I had two invitations for lunch from separate locals. The library ladies asked first so I was to become their guest of honor. Dona called reporters until they came with pens pulled from behind their ears. Dona called them all. Through a lunch of still warm fries, and barbeque chicken on a toasted roll I told stories that pulled half a dozen women away from the table, past the creeks, to where the moose still runs. We talked about snow. We talked about the change of a man, moving toward purpose.
Before lunch was over, Dona offered me a room at her bed and breakfast up the hill. I returned to the computer after press pictures flashed, and Dona gave me directions to The Franklin House, an 1840's house that she rebuilt with her husband Charles with sweat and love. An hour into being in Jonesborough and I had two separate offers to spend the night. Again Dona was first, so I became her guest.
Bed and breakfasts are God's gift to the traveling man and woman that acke for grandmother's smells, a mother's attentive coil of deep towels by the bathroom sink, and meals that made you want to pray while you ate even though you just said grace. The Franklin House moved one night into another, and then slipped another under the door while I slept, or was it while I walked through these streets that made me want to collect all those I love in my eyes so they too could see this town too without the hurdles of my words. History came here to visit, then decided to stay. Jonesborough was a pretty girl winking at me, as her hand found mine under the table while her mother served me pie.
Last night, Chuck, Dona and myself had to chew quickly though our dinner at the Dogwood Lane Resturant, which of course is a cruel sin when the mouth begs to linger over flavors the mind forgot existed. We had to get to a poetry reading, and talk at the town's visitor's center. George Ella Lyon, who was also staying at the Franklin House, was the award winning poet we were quickening to see.
As the microphone teased George Ella by working, and then not, the three of us found our seats up front. I was glad I could see George Ella's mouth. I was thankful I could watch her eyes. Sitting on a fold up chair, I watched a near stranger toss us words I had never heard arranged so startlingly before. Listening to George Ella, I silently prayed that the word 'stranger' would be removed from between us. Listening to George Ella made me want to go out into the back yard with a mason jar and a flashlight, and collect words just for her. George Ella made me sit up inside and wiggle arrows in my ears so that I cold push her words deeper into my paper brain.
As I listened as if I was ten and in love with my teacher, George Ella announced that a special story teller, and traveler of small town America was in the audience. Sitting in the front row with arrows sticking out of my ears like breadsticks I heard my name come to me in Ella's voice. As I was asked, I stood waving to everybody. My mouth wouldn't work. George Ella had been visiting students and encouraging them to collect stories in journals in the town school. They were in attendence. When the talk came to an end, and some students recieved awards, I tried to swim through the croud to George Ella but it was futile. Right away, boy's with fathers, and girls with mothers asked me for pictures with the walker propped beside their child. Soon I went from a stick figure trying to get a handle on the moment , to a character telling boys how to pee in the woods so no noise was made, because they asked how I releaved myself. Boys! Twenty feet from where George Ella signed her books, I walked around an invisible tent miming the art of voiding in a circle around a tent to keep the bears away. Parents roared at my ridiculous dance.
I scared them with the thought of large bears around my tent, as much as I made them cross their legs to avoid an accident when I made them laugh long and hard with my potty dance. The highlight of the walker show and tell was when I let the children wear my grizzly claw that was never away from my heart. All the power of my stories was pounding in their young hands. You would think that I would have to tell them to be careful, and not to.... I handed them the warm claw from around my neck. Young fingers held the claw and beads as if the bear could waken. I smiled and said nothing. More pictures.
George Ella made eye contact from where the tide of people moved out into the night, and smiled. In my heart I knew that we would talk till late into the night. In my mind I knew that we would share words smooth like wine that we would have to sip slowly and quietly, or our heads would hurt. I held George Ella Lyon in my hand like the grizzly claw was cupped in the hands of the boys. The bear was waking, so I listened.

16 March 2006

Coni's Boots

An e-mail came to me recently from a dear friend I met in PA just before Christmas last year. We met much earlier on the walk. It seems like a lifetime ago, and yeaterday. Coni couldn't believe that I threw away my walking boots when they turned their toes to the heavens. Coni and I must be related. Although I didn't dig a grave for them like she considered for a pair of cowboy boots that her dog altered in a private operation, I moved my hand over the leather still feeling life wanting life until I heard.
While the new boots on my feet still smelled like fresh leather and cardboard yet to see a mile, I pulled out my knife in the country outdoor store and began cutting free all the weathered leather that had seen me through so many miles from the old Vasques hikers. I handed the young female at the counter the skeleton remains of my old friends as I tramped out the door with feet that could no longer bend. She stared looking gut shot until I could no longer see her reflection in the glass door closing behind me. I burned that bridge down. There was no changeing my mind--although I did two miles later as new boots began to eat my right foot and ask for salt.
Days later I began the magic of drawing new life out of boots gone by. I stabbed my large blade into a log, holding a hand size patch of leather with two hands, I pulled the dark brown patch into the fine edge, always pulling and turning with two hands until the top of the log was covered with rich leather lace. The leather cord was then woven to make a handle for my titanium tea pot, and lacing to hold my hawk more securly in the leather sheath that I made from found leather early in the walk. The left boot became a handsome pouch from leather soaked in water to ease my needle through. I can tie it anywhere to secure an old coin I carry, or a little treasure. Old boot laces wait out their days as bench warmers tied to my pack frame, hoping that they get called back into the game as laces again, or rope extensions for my bear-bag tied up in a tree.
So far, I'm considering using these new boots that still trash my feet with perfect cuts as high-powered rifle targets when I settle down, or cactus planters rotting slowly in the sun. I'll keep it on the thought wagon and keep you posted.

15 March 2006


When Paul asked me to come and spend the night on his canoe that had a little frig between his knees, and a roof over his head, I was less than a little interested. Pushing the spoon down into the cold bottom of my canned pasta and sause, while sitting on the front stoop of a dusty store that was older than time, I tried to figure out what Paul meant by saying I was Amish. "I know the Amish, and I'm never wrong. Your Amish. I can always tell. I get this feeling,"said Paul, sounding alot like a man trying to sell a car that he knew could never run.
I was getting a feeling too. Usually I listen to my feelings when they yell, "Nutcase". This would be one of the few times that I'd be glad I didn't listen to the voice within. In a day I'd see Paul again with his hook in my mouth. I would not regret it though.
Paul has a strange sense of humor. Paul would toy with me more than a few times before I realized that not all that Paul said was literal. Bait was put out in front of me. If I struck at what Paul was selling more line was let out. Often alot of line was unreeled. That I didn't always get Paul's jokes was part of the running comedy. Paul had nearly twenty years on me. It showed on his timing on his trip wire snares. Paul was never impatient to set the hook. Each time I was primed by an expert. We were both, reguardless of age, walking a long bridge over dark water. We were learning to live in the now. We knew that a Sumerset houseboat or a canoe, a tent or a mansion did not measure around our hearts with string or record the level of humanity in our brow. We collected people like autumn leaves. Paul's floating home was always covered in his shifting collection of close friends that fell from the surrounding hills. I was introduced to them all. I watched them move in the changing light until they became mine too.

Even when I first arrived at the marina I was thankful. Many signs along the road read, "Bear Reserve". Bears always demand a bit more edge when encountered. My edge was less than sharp. My edge for another bear encounter was blunt. The marina called me in. I pulled Paul's name from my journal.
It took me a while to find the boat named "Precisely". Lake Watauga is a beautiful creature that the mountains stare at all day without uttering a complaint. A day ago I had found a backwoods camp out by Elk Mills that was far east on Watauga Lake, and I had an offer to stay in a crude camp. It was not a pretty picture though. People had been leaving garbage and broken glass there for years, and portions of shanties sat beside the water. Only the cold prevented the foul smell from lifting its head. I physically could not put my feet in the water to rinse them after miles of walking, reguardless of my want. Using the coming storm as an excuse to leave the people I just met, I walked to another waterfront down the coast to camp alone. Broken beer bottles of assorted colors still lined the beach like satanic shells, but it was better. Again I became a ghost of the waterside forest as night moved in to avoid late night visitors. I played my flute by the water that was waking to the night wind. I courted the storm.
A day later, this was the same water at the marina, but nothing else was related to my first night at Watauga Lake. This was beauty. No broken bottle teeth lined the shore. No weather broken rebel flags fluttered over disguarded tires, and tired yellow-white foam board did not lean away from the base of scarred trees on rope with knots melted by the sun. Boats so white they stayed before my closed eyes in the sterile afternoon sun lined before me in formation. Mountains heavy with trees garnished the water without a rash of houses or heavy with signs of man. Past dozens of handsome boats that bobbed on wakes like toys in a tub, I searched for the boat named "Precisely". Being off season, the people were few.
"Precisely" was hard to find because I was looking for a humble float. "Precisely" was not a raft with a tent on top. "Precisely", was a floating dream. Mirrors, beveled glass, birch wood, shag carpet,flat screen televisions via satalite contacts, and all the luxury of the finest new home. Eighty feet by eighteen feet of plush. For three and a half days I made friends, survived Paul's jokes that held a humorous twist, and reclined into the second floor hot tub while watching stars float over in a water twin sky, thinking of all the unpredictables that had already happened under the moving of these feet. I was being being carried, reguardless how many miles I believed I walked alone.
My bedroom on the houseboat was below water level. I stood at night in front of my bedroom window watching the waves splinter into spray against the dock in front of me at waist level. I had come a long way inside and out. Paul had me eat pig parts not meant to be eaten, covered with sardines and mayo. Paul lied about eating it himself as a special treat with a perfect poker face. He could barely watch me eat though, without breaking out into laughter. Paul turning me into a silly younger brother that believed to easily. We played cards until it was late, sharing stories that were easier to swollow. Paul cornered me into singing at the Ice House, a tavern in backwoods TN, in front of a full bar of country folks I had never seen before, and I sang. Paul encouraged me to live for the book. I listened to Paul even after I ate his crazy creations meant to gag because there was a current running deeper. I listened to Paul even after he confessed that he had no intention in singing. I listened to aaPaul because he drew me out.
Paul existed somewhere between a heart-felt depth and a comical brother that played with me mentally because he was enjoying his life just as he saw that I was savoring mine. This journey was larger than me, than him, or this body of water in a bowl of mountains. Fear was something I was learning to walk right up to, and kick the stool out from under it. Carefully.
It was not easy to leave Paul, Jennifer, his girlfriend, and all the lives I had entered. It was not hard either. Visiting Paul reenforced the spectrum of this adventure. If I questioned it before, I knew now that I would dine with royality, and sleep with the poor under bridges before the journey told me that I was done. Paul reminded me to laugh at myself even when I wanted to reach for the comfort of anger. Paul demanded that I become his friend. I'm glad that I sang.
Paul was right about living for the walk by singing in the bar in front of nearly a hundred mountain strangers.I stood at the microphone at the Ice House because I was seriously afraid to. My right knee shook so hard it thumpted against the left, but I stood. I could hear it in my voice as I made my way through Amercia's, Sister Golden Hair Surprise. "You face bears,"I told myself. What is a silly song? No teeth. No claws." I was scared less by bears though. Thanks to Paul, I sharpened my edge with country courage, and then said good-bye.

Camp Woody Guthrie

The new boots still have bite. Guess that means that they'll last a long time in battle. The weight of my pack has been increasing to keep up with the hunger of spring that does not wait for a calenders permission. The bear has abandoned the den. Everything is on the menu. Leaving the post office after sending a few unneeded articles back to base camp, I head to yet another store to replace the resident pound I just evicted.

There are joys that are silly in words, yet I will try to set them down. Last night I made my tent by the rails in a clutch of evergreen that promised to diffuse the wind that beat my face all day. While the wind smeared the local earth throughout the night, I remained on my bed of red earth (that stained everything), thankfully not feeling even one breath come out of the valley.
When the sun came up to rebuke the night's cold, I started my fire in my zip-stove with evergreen branches that fell around the camp. Fire comes easy with these fingers that collect tinder into flame for nearly every meal I eat. Just as the water chugged to a boil, and I poured it over coffee beans I just mashed with a stick, as the train announces itself in the town below. With a big smile that comes from the ability to see myself sitting over my little fire, I waved to the train as it squeaked and squealed past to the sound of a working engine fighting the grade. As soon as the conductor saw me he found the train's whistle, and shot it into the morning air until he was near the top of the ridge. Today I became a hobo with pine needles in my morning hair. A change is coming. What was a thousands nervous fingers holding on, begins to let go with nothing falling down.

07 March 2006

New Boots

Boone, NC

Four miles outside West Jefferson with my new right boot off for the forth time, or is it the fifth? I begin to hate the words,' boot sale'. 30% off on new hiking boots. I could feel the tar through the soles of my vasques in route to hobo holes. "Sold," says the debit card. My size twelves have become thirteen's. My roots are getting bigger. Maybe I shopped too fast to get to the mountains for live blue grass on a Saturday night. New leather boots are just that, new. New boots are a religion of their own. There are alot of beliefs, from soaking in a shower to beating them in a bag. Breaking in a new pair of hiking boots with seventy pounds of gear and trail food on the back is praying to frogs though. Your skin will change.....feet first.
My left foot is all smiles. "Where are we going? Where are we going? I think I always wanted to go hiking." My right foot is screaming in a tongue I don't believe that I know, but I get the point. All of them.
My right foot is dancing arounds bites and stabs from arch to heal, and back. Down an embankment I spy a piece of closed cell white foam. With a knife in hand I go hunting for a bit of solace to place in the devils mouth. Over moleskin I place a square of foam I've cut to order. In an hour I have taught it to stay exactly where I want it in the boot's heal...sort of.
It is three p.m. Twelve miles to go into the back mountains that are all arch and heal. I'll be singing my own blues to grass by a creek with a foot happily drowning in the ice water tonight.
I think of eating a handful of coffee beans to get me over the next hill. It is more placebo than a fix. Besides, I'm all out of dark chocolate. Dark in an hour. Eight miles to go. Bad boot. Bad. It is getting dark. I can no longer walk straight.

Nothing this side of sin feels as good as taking off an angry new boot knowing that for today the dog can rest. Sitting in the door of my tent I sloooooooly pull off the high top leather as if the new band-aid will take flesh. Cold air rushes in to cool the coals. I was more than a little concerned that air was the last of the trinity nessary to create instant flames. Holding my foot in a hands cradle, red wing blackbirds sing beside me songs that move all the heat from my feet. Spring is coming, and I have pretty new boots. It's a great evening for twig tea by a nameless creek.
In two or three days both feet will be smiling. At least until I tell them the little trip I have planned.

04 March 2006

Bear's Den

Many of the hands that I shake on this journey are simply, and beautifully, lives touching, then they are gone forever. When we first hear a song we don't always know right away that it will become one of our favorite songs: a melody that will play in the gallery of our memories for the rest of our lives. This goes for people too. These songs are so powerful that wherever we are, and no matter what we are doing it becomes secondary. These songs may come over the radio, a friends compact disc, an old record we thought we threw...it doesn't matter. For us, all movement external stops. For a moment, everything 'in the now' has stopped. We are whisked back to that diner, that picture show, that velvet kiss with a lover that lost their name to time...but in that song they are still round in our listening. In that song we are round too with all the words we wish we'd said. People are alot like songs. Our time is so short, yet we are given all the notes in the world to be whatever songs we want to be for our five dancing minutes.
When I met Monte my hands were just beginning to warm to the day. My feet wanted caffine if they couldn't have new boots today. I agreed to the bribe. When Monte told me about his cabins up the hill past the pines, I visualized modern kit cabins that would block the wind. I remembered last night when my tent wanted to be a kite.
After seven I found my way to the cabins below Mount Jefferson. The twins were the nutty color of old furniture. They were old furniture, and as perfectly made. Monte wasn't home yet. I ran my hands over the log cabins from 1845 made of wormy chestnut, marveling at the tight dove joints that shrugged at time.
Monte'Bear'Pritchard and I were sitting in front of the fireplace in one of the cabins within the hour. Monte's nickname fit. Monte is a bear in form, and face with a easy smooth heart beating behind old farmer jeans, and pockets of assorted small tools. Pulling up a bench and a chair in front of the growing warmth in a still cold cabin we began to pour one another a cup of who we really were. We talked about walking, and having children. Choices. We talked about wood, and the old way people watched fire instead of television. Hours passed in the old log school house from the NC/VA state line that had been pain stakingly moved to its present location in 1960. We heard the heavy wind, barely.
Too soon Bear was off to the main house for bed. Rolling out my bag on the floor in front of the fire, I watched the glow of fire flickering on vintage wood as I fed the flame. I looked out the windows, thinking of the young lives that gazed through these very panes as students, lives now done living. I thought about these people I am now gifted to get to know, so garnished in music, and I thought more about children unborn.
Morning brought Bear's kind bass voice to the cabin door with coffee in two cups. I moved chairs back by the fire feeling like I was again a teacher preparing for class. Bear talked more. I fought back. We were both trying to cover alot of mountains in too short a period of time using words for feet. From his pocket Bear pulled out a silver natical wheel for me to carry on my journey; to carry me to the ocean. It is smooth by years of Bear's hand moving over the fine metal. It is obvious that Bear gave me a gift that he held very dear. I ran through my pack in my mind. I felt every pocket. Nothing could I think of to give in return came to mind. I said thank you in slow deep words. I had been given another song that has become part of the walk. Bear and I will sit by a fire again.

03 March 2006

West Jefferson, NC

In the Bohemian Coffee Shop where several people know my name before I set my pack down, culture shock removes my road dust as people shake my hand asking about a book release date. Miles ago I would not believe this place existed. Miles ago I questioned if I existed, or if I would continue to do so. When I am too many roads removed from trappings of today's society, many faces warn me to watch my scalp with no wink in their eye. There are towns where no smiles come except from the cows, and they watch me take water from the creeks, and then look at each other without chewing. Everyone has a story on these near forgotten roads that robs me of sleep. I walk farther in the ditches until I am sure that one leg will grow longer than the other. I keep my hat brim pulled down when a old pick-up pulls up just a little too slow. This is not my nature. This is not the walk. As soon as the ghost stories wear off I am searching out eyes again. Many smile back, some wave. Years ago I was a combat paratrooper in this state. As part of the 82nd Airborne Division I was too brave when death was camped all around. We were all too brave. Time has reminded me that we break in ways that don't always heal.
I was a soldier here in North Carolina, but North Carolina is a state I dated but never really knew. Walking through town a large man yells across route 221 to me. "Are you the man walking across America?"
Monte appears to be a happy soul. "I have read Peter Jenkin's book until they were worn tissue thin, and dog-eared to tearing. Man, I love those books. Ya know, I got to meet to meet Peter when he was close to passing through this area?"
We shake hands again after we talk for a few minutes. Before my I leave my new friend to come to the Bohemian Coffee House I write now from, (I took way too long to find) I'm given an invitation to stay in one of Monte's log cabins for the night. Missing my humble log cabin that I built back in the woods of the Berkshires, I am thrilled to spend a night in a log shelter. Little do I know how blessed I will be.

It is 20 degrees out. Snow is an occasional sting on the face, nothing but touches blinked into water. Yesterday it was seventy. I am lucky that I found no post a day ago. Yesterday I was going to mail out clothing I now wear without a choice. I am still cold, but it is a peaceful edge. Dressing until I am warm is sweating in a mile, yelling at the elements in two.
Mentioning the wind from last night is to talk about demons pulling my hair, as it tried to empty my pockets of everything I carry. At seven p.m. I am soldier proud that I can set camp in winds that have me staking my hat to my head. This wasn't a camp from Ralph Laren. Just outside of town in a zone that almost every town has; the old lot that falls away down behind the gas station where the purple briars grow, I found a flat near where a house is reduced to a cinderblock foundation. Camp was where the wind brought dead things out from the town; things that nobody wants anymore.
When the wind really came it came with tearing and knashing of its teeth. It was a jet with engines just above my head. If I could have broken camp, and broke fence, bolted through briar, I would have run for the old barn. Or, I would have sat by the creek and made up songs while leaning against the lonely tree with my pack behind me, head pulled into my shoulders calling morning. Even with my full bag of stakes beat into the earth around me like a prayer circle, it was the weight of my flesh and bone that kept my whole world from flying to the heavens. All night I shoved my body against the leading wall of my tent to head off the attack. The wind was still slamming me over. My tent poles did not break. They should have. That was all I could hope against. The ends of my hiking poles were wrapped in my clothes, adjusted, and buttressed beside me to help battle against the wind. My pack also never got to sleep as it too was part of the bracing. Morning found me in my stew of gear all leaning to one wall of the tent raft that had somehow rode through the night without losing a soul. Some nights are the carpets of down pine needles where I fight like a child to stay up past bedtime to peer through the trees at the water, other nights are fists and arrows I dodge until morning makes me brave again.