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.

29 December 2006

Return To Texas

Conlen, TX / South of Stratford

Far from the Oblander home, and the wealth of family that nourished me on many levels through five days, my legs have carried me south into the Texas panhandle. It is good to see police drive by again without brake lights hitting hard. It will take time for the instintive flinch to leave my stride after hundreds of miles walking under a microscope. Passing into Texas I feel a lightness return to my cadence, a new wind moves past that encourages me to lift my head again instead of plowing forward looking at my feet in a belief that a hard walking man is less likely to be stopped by the law. It's funny how many beliefs we carry far too long after we realize that there is no truth or payoff in them. The joy of simply walking is returning. In east Texas I was stopped by one police officer last summer. He was laughing on his way from his the cruiser to where I stood, "Bet you've been through this before."
"Once or twice," I tried to laugh back but failed. He ran my information more as a formality, and then we shot the breeze about places we served in the military, the terrible weight of water, and about how he too had dreams he wish he hadn't shelved, but did. He patted the round tire of his waistline spread, laughing less with humor and more in sadness to himself. We shook hands earnestly, and I felt richer for the meeting as I trudged on into the hot Texas evening, eyes already shopping the roadsides for a hide that would see me safe till dawn.

When I get to Colen, TX I take a picture of the telephone pole tall cowboy made of fiberglass that shoots back at noone, and scanned the village for any shelter from the storm that has been foretold for days. My radio would rather sing than give up datails on snow so I listen to the growing force of the wind. The sky crouches down to the earth to tell me it secrets and begins to spit as it talks without meaning to. My head is just coming down from anger so I listen with only one ear. It was more than ten miles ago that I resupplied knowing that it would be over thirty miles before another store. This is always tough evaluation time. I spend half an hour just coming down from the rush of seeing so much food for sale, so many colorful boxes of sugar this and that, fruit and veggies making my mouth swollow over and over. In the bread isle I am torn between blueberry bagels, flat-breads, or wheat berry bread that is as soft and fresh as a dream. Of course the wheat berry bread wins. Outside in the cold air I chug a quart of eggnog so I can think, while I peel a banana to follow it down, and a can of butter beans that are not as pretty as the photo on the can. The wheat berry bread is so fresh it steams up the bag. My hands want to tear open the bag and process a few slices knowing they will never taste this good with the air growing colder by the minute. With super human restraint I loop the plastic shop bag containing the bread to the trovois cart,shoulder a stout 60 pound Crow Dog and waddle off with a carrot sticking out of my mouth. Eight miles later there is no sack of bread to be found on the cart though I can see hours of road walked behind me. There is no consolation to be had. The bread that I was to enjoy in the coming storm and perhaps for more than three days of rough winter walking was now litter for racoons and ravens. My mouth complains the loudest, although the whole inner command of this journey feels the blow. Old words of anger are weak and frivolous out here, so I make up my own. They are loud and full of fireful barking until I am worn with it and just grumble on down the road muttering parts of sentences all with the word bread in them, designing crazy knots in my head to use on the next sorry bag of bread I am blessed enough to WELD to my cart.

In Conlen, far behind the fiberglass cowboy, there are a few old trucks discussing nothing verbal as they freckle with rust and remember. Making my way there with thoughts of smoked meat I can bed on cream cheesed flatbread a white pick-up follows me out into the grass. Too tired, I hand my card expressing my disblief about any bums hanging out in any town that doesn't even have a gas station/market. Cory Crabtree assures me that just a week ago the police from up north dropped off a man in the last storm that didn't even have a coat. "He nearly died in that storm. Well, he had a full page rapsheet depicting the crimes he had commited.......anyhow, I just drove out here to make sure some of our things don't walk away."
I looked over at my travois. I shrugged the weight that still sank into the saddles of my shoulders. "Well, I have no desire to carry anymore. This is all that I can handle. Is there any way I can just set my tent using those old trucks as a wind break? If you feel I am a concern, or if you'd rather, I'll just move on down the road." My mouth was as exhausted as my legs. There is nothing refreshing about selling your clean intentions over and over, too tired to sell, I just waited.
"Well, there's nothing down that road. Yeah, you can get in that truck if you get cold," Cory said with a smile that said he believed me.
"I have a good tent," was all I said.
It was less than a hour later that Cory and his girlfriend drove back over. Camp was set and I was just swollowing a large gulp of eggnog remembering one of the great treasures of winter, the gift of eggnog. After a few minutes debating, the F-350 white pick-up was driving away while I grumbled at myself for agreeing to drop camp and go to a heated barn across the road and over the train tracks. "Another barn!" My inner voice was not amused. "We're all set. Look, we have everything set up for morning coffee even if it snows. The wind can't hit the mouth of the tent as it's now gusting. If a storm comes as predicted we can huddle under this old duce and a half."
"Huddle under a truck in a snow storm under a truck bed as all my gear is ravished by winds I already have seen remove steel roofs?" In twenty minutes all the gear was stowed under a black sky, and I staggered off to find the barn.

The storm has come. My socks, hand washed, hang drying in front of a gas stove on the tractor bay floor. My bedding is unrolled on the hardwood boards of a flatbed semi trailer, and coffee beans promise to let me watch a foot of snow fall on everything through the barn window as winds bend down evergreens to the ground over and over just because they can.
Elliott Crabtree, Cory's father and owner of the workshop barn, and I eat our breakfast as he brings me up to speed on military events pertaining to the war. We chew slowly listening to the war raging outside and decide to talk about Creation instead.

24 December 2006

Little House


The storm that had saddled the horse barn on Rt.54 put thick ropes of ice over every trees in Goodwell and pulling down hard until every branch was headed for a break. When I walked against the wind into town branches were raining down from every tree. Splintered limbs were falling on carports, and trucks, filling yards and littering the streets. Houses in rows had limbs rake off portions of roofs and tag cars. Every street was a battle ground where trees took heavy casualities on all sides as the Waterford crystal world of ice and light refraction out taxed the strength of wood.

As soon as I arrived in town I bought a warm meal just to get out of the bitter wind. Tall glasses of water were unable to curb the dry parched field in my mouth so I drank until I was uncomfortable and ice no longer felt good against my teeth. Under the table I shook off the foul dust of the horse farm family that lingered in my mind.
Kind staff at the town hall handed me a book to skim over that contained the town history in black and white pictures. A safe place was also offered to get me out of the weather for the night.
Across the street at the Hilltoppers,( a senior center for those not ready to be called over the hill)I introduced myself to the gathering of men playing dominoes in farm attire. As they played I became less of a stranger over a styrofoam cup of coffee and a shard of peanut brittle one of the men made from scratch. Jim Oblander , the man seated closest to me, was a huey pilot in Vietnam. He flew the same choppers I parachuted from in the eighties. In the army I gained great respect for these men that also risked their lives--often saving ours. Now a door was thrown open to become friends with a decorated vet that spoke the same language we both spoke when we were soldiers; the language of having been in harms way and returning. As evening blew in it became Jim's home that I headed for when the last of the dominoes found their box. Next to Jim's and his wife Charlsye's elegant home sat a cozy little house they also owned. I was given the full use of the little house and asked to stay through the holiday. My gear was brought over as Jim and I made plan's to fly over a portion of my walk the next day, plans to fly over things I will never see again, miles of New Mexico, Kansas and over to the CO. Rockies. I would learn that there would be places I would be walking where not a tree grew from horizon to horizon. Ahead of me on this flight I would learn what America was sharpening me to endure; preparation to survive being truely alone.

Crooked Wind

Goodwell, OK

As a fierce storm rolled out its overt intention above my head, I headed southwest out of Guymon. Cart and backpack were maxed out with food, faithfully well worn gear, and water, making the darkening clouds moving up from the south appear heavier. When all of daylight was spent I was just pulling into the driveway of a horsebarn and a small modular home, six miles south on route 54, desperate for cover as ice began to lightly peen the metal roof of the three sided barn. It was the only hope that I saw on the long stretch. Miles of field and oil pump stations had been passed with no hope of concealing me from the 30mph winds, and coming of ice and snow that were predicted to last for days. I can count on a couple fingers how many times I have gone to a strangers door on this journey requesting a barn or a hide beside an out building that would shield me for the night, from bears,from weather, from the sprawl of city that lingered on seemingly forever sometimes at night fell. Although I saw movement at the home this night, no one would answer the door. A car with people watching me sat in the yard. The mother of the woman in the home was sitting behind the wheel. She called her husband from her car in the driveway via cell phone while she spoke to me through the three inches of open window of her locked car,"My daughter doesn't want to answer the door. She's more than a little freaked out that your here." I gave my story as I stood far away from the car to lower her own fear. "Oh, we know who you are. We've seen you walking." Car window closes. More calls made. In a half of an hour the father shows up at the house. I expect heavy lines in his brow, and closed tight hands. My expectations are wrong. He is a kind friendly man, close to my age, and his hands are open. In minutes I am shown to the horse barn. It is in a state of neglect except for a new steel roof. To me it is a prayer answered. My tent is set on powered dung in less than a thought as the storm begins to turn up the volume. The father returns with potato soup, buttered bread and small hand tools to open a locked tack room so I will have four walls around me although I am delighted to have a horse stall out of the wind. Three days of snow, ice and wind do come with all the temps from 30 degrees falling at times to single digits, or so the radio tells me and I believe. I have no one to talk to except a lone wild rabbit that huddles outside the door in feathers it has collected in a cup around himself. Gear is tweeked. My journal is fed thoughts to chew on later. I never go near the house, nor do I step out on that side of the barn. I become a ghost listening to the wailing of the world outside. In solitary confinement I listen to the moaning winds and give truthful thanks for my protection, to be warmer, and dry.
It is on this third day that the door is pounded by a fist. When I step into wind that a man could lean against and not fall, I see a Guymon police sgt. standing with his hand on his polmer handled pistol. When he sees me his hand falls from his sidearm. "Thought you were the guy who is walking across America? Well, if what you do is walking...why aren't you walking?" The police officer steps out of the wind that is peeling his hands and face and casts a recognizing look at the elements around him that just stole all his warmth. He rethinks his words while I watch.
"I am the man walking across America. I was given permission by the family that owns this place to stay in this barn until the storm passes. The radio said stay put, and if you didn't have to go outside for anything..Don't." My voice was calm as it tried to decern why once again I was down range from a police officer sizing me up in his own personal trial, a trial I would surely be convicted as 'not like the others,' or 'colors outside the lines.'
"That's why I'm here. The house hold is more than a little concerned about your intention..well, they're uneasy. They want you gone." My face is hit with surprise. A family that gave me permission to get out of the storm in an unused barn littered with old roof debris and scattered with dried horse manure called the police because a storm was still hitting the region, and I was still quietly in their barn three days before Christmas.
As I processed this truth, the police officer got to process the air that was putting the hurt on his unprotected skin, and evaluate the man that was of no threat to anyone hunkered away in a cold barn.
"Do you have food, water, asked the sgt. who warmed up to me a little as the air continued to take all the external warmth he arrived with?"
Through eyes that still held the weight that comes with realizing you've been betrayed I answered in a quiet and disappointed voice. "I don't need anything. If today I have to leave in this weather, I will walk if you let me.
"I would not send an animal out in this cold wind, let alone a man." The gun on the officer's side disappeared. The patches on his heavy coat became just thick cloth. The officer that fist hammered the door was no longer standing before me in fists. This was a brother that began to open envelopes of concern for me that I did not know he carried.
In the end, even after the police officer went back to Guymon to get a police van to carry me and all my gear to the shealter in Guymon, I asked permission to simply walk on into the staggering 18 degree wind.
"You haven't broken any laws. I can't stop you, but I wish you'd come back with me to town. Nobody should have to walk in this. I'm more than a little concerned." My identification was run over the radio and returned to me once again. Clear, no warrants. "I have to wait for you to get your things together and leave so I can escort you to the highway(route 54 sw)."
Trying not to feel dirty and like a lowlife by society's standards, I shoved my world into Crow Dog with the same punch I still carried in my stomach. I would not look at the house as I walked my cart to the road with the police van following me. Never did I turn to see my escourt drive away as I pulled remnant cloth over my mouth and nose thinking about the idea of people celebrating 25 December in three days, steaming warm food, and that dull blade longing to feel wanted.

18 December 2006

Room In The Inn

Guymon, OK PanHandle

Last night the cold came; the kind of cold that makes you put your sweater on head, and tie your scarf around your chin like your jaw would drop off without it. The cold can of bear spray bites into my side. At fifty dollars a can I can't throw it away. Even with no bears here to spice the post office won't consent to mailing it to base. Wish that I could eat it.
For a few hours I have been sleeping in a field past where the new Walmart is still in the concreate and rebar stage. A lone coyote comes up to my tent crying. I open my flaps to converse it away. It won't go. The slight breeze is enough to take the air from my lungs. My tent is organized, still there is no room for a lonely coyote that shudders in the cold. Are coyotes sometimes ousted from the pack I wonder. I alter my words that are brushing the youngster away into a reserved welcome. I can get closer to the can of bear repellant and a frozen pack frame. The coyote just wants an ear I suspect, a hole to hide in. In a minute it is over by the dry creek bed singing its painful woes to a night that makes all of creation wish they had mastered fire. Trying to reclaim sleep I pull the fleece sweater hard against my head until the acking song mixes in equal measure with the wind moving me to sleep. Even being wild, sometimes we are still just too alone.

Before I pick up more supplies at the p.o. I find a market to fill my cart so full that some of my winter gear has to ride shootgun in the great outdoors. Crow Dog remain at about sixty pounds no matter how much I plan. My last store was in Woodward. Next fill? I buy most things that can take freeze and thaw without flipping my insides once ingested. Base Camp Betty has sent a shared gift from herself and my mother--a digital camera for the book. I send my hard body 35mm north and stare at the fancy little gizmo that will take some serious study. It can sleep next to the pepper spray in my extra hat.
Crow Dog is fat with more clothing, treats, and a bit of fear of the storm that is bringing inches of ice and single digits. This time I hope the coyote comes in and keeps me warm. I'll get pictures...I hope.

It is an odd science watching people strain for kindness as the holidays get closer. Don't misunderstand. I love it. In Mickey D's a few separate men place dollars on my table as I work a hot drink. Outside Dollar General a man that only speaks spanish takes my hand and fills it with warm quarters. He is old and kind, holding my hand in his two. My guts acke to talk to him, to know what puts his hand in mine. All of my prejudice is broken into hay for bedding. His eyes earnestly search for mine and sparkle in a holy shine I have rarely seen. Yes, there is a fresh energy of heart in the air--but the truth is that there is a larger hand that has been filling mine for thousands of miles.
Lights are brighter, my cheeks have a fresh bite, songs about peaceful blessings come over my little radio into the cold vapor of my breath as I wait on sleep or fingers to thaw so that I can continue to write....what has changed in the end is me, because I can only be lifted by so many kind gestures before a yearning is born in me to lift others, to give of my bounty.

I do not know how close I will get to Sante Fe NM by the New Year. Maybe new coyotes will sing with my flute in some canyon with no name. It no longer matters. I am blessed to be walking this America, living this dream, carring all those countless kind faces I have met in my wandering thoughts that take me back to Schyler VA, Jonesborough TN, Lancaster PA, Saint Francisville LA, and a thousand other towns where people promised the'd pray for me, then did. I wake more than a little anxious to meet the strangers that are still before me with voices and a uniqueness I could never know without my path crossing theirs.. Thank you all for opening your lives to me. You are the America a little boy wanted to grow up and find. Happy New Year to you all.

14 December 2006

Church Dinner and Voice

The miles have softened. The hills that have worn me down become, for a while, a kind plain of far off views with trees growing rarer still. Hawks follow me out of curosity, or companionship. At Bryan's Corner it is more of the same candy, beer, and the kind of food nobody could live on....well. I buy the last three cans of baked beans, one muffin, and a cup of joe because my coffee beans have made their last cup until I get supplies in Guymon. The locals at the truckstop stare and whisper to each other without saying a word to me. I smell like the road and keep to myself.

Last night I spent at the Epp family home after a supper at the church in Balko/Bryan's corner. The field near the church would have made a fine night's rest. The wind has taken a breather making camp life alot more enjoyable. In the end though, as everybody was heading home, the Epp family kindly insisted I come and share their home, a shower, a warm bed and good conversation. Conversation is the one staple quickly missed on the road. It is 130 a.m. before we wander off to sleep.
The pastor James Epp,a man with a dream of someday riding a mountain bike the length of the Continential Divide, understands aspects of the walk without my explaination. We look at each other's lives and smile with a clean sense of wanting, yet waiting without worry. It is great to walk around a home with gear catalogs set about on the tables showing the latest, lightest gear. It reminds me of the years of dreaming---and the the joy of living the dream. The five Epp children are laughing with me over morning pancakes and sausage. Family.

13 December 2006

Bryan's Corner, OK Mid Pan Handle

Miles from nothing has not slowed the attention of police jacking this hiker. Days pass making them the only conversation I have--and once I get my identification back proving I am not a highly wanted tumble-weed marketeer on the lamb I am hung back out in the wind to regroup and carry on. OK has provided more police background checks than all other states combined. Not a nice feature....especially when there is nothing out here but the illusion of America the free. Thankfully, this is not the nature of the people here. The kindness of Fort Supply is one staple that has not worn thin or lost its shine. It was more than a little difficult to leave that blanket of warmth. It was a full week before I was able to leave Ft. Supply, and make it out of town.

The term tenderfoot no longer applies to me, which allows me to weather days of silence in exchange for a few minutes of moments and people that feed the heart. A kind semi driver named Jeff stops late yesterday. He has seen me walking for days on his delivery run to Guyson dropping to off pigs. Jeff hands me a buritto and a cold water. We talk about the coming of cold and hills that are relentless even though everyone talks about the panhandle as being flat. He says more than this but I am listening to the sound of his words, not so much what he is saying. He moves his words in an easy way like sliding his feet on smooth boards in a country way that makes me like him right away. I want to engage him. My mouth is out of practice and he is gone before I remember words. An hour later another driver stops to hand me spiced jerky. I reach out and take the No Man's Land jerky having run low on everything and no stores till Guymon; what I am really reaching for is conversation with someone that isn't considering arresting me. He too is gone too soon. The day is tipping its hat. Night comes with the turn of the wind coming through my clothes.
In a field of waist deep tumble weeds that have flowed down into a hollow under a overpass I stash my gear. For nearly a mile I wander far out into the black and purple of bluffs, the homes of burrowing owls talking softly, and past the coyotes that seem to know me by name. "This is it," I say out loud. "This is all my wanting. This is what I have walked for, lost for, hurt for, hoped for, and would walk all those miles again for. This is a place where I can hear the world as it once was." My legs are moving like dance. My head are moving like song. Pulling my blanket tight around me I feel the knife hung at my chest. I feel the compass and flint stick on my neck. For a second I let it all fall away, the pack, the gear, the cart, dried food, letters half written. I look to where there is still some red in the earth far to the south-west, considering. I could just walk on from here, this moment, and it will all still come to me. No roads. No police. Nobody constantly trying to pull the curtain down. Looking back to where the weeds have swollowed my gear I stop dancing, singing. My hands find my pockets. They are empty. I walk back the mile in the purple dark.

03 December 2006

Walking On Water (Camp Supply)

Fort Supply, OK (Last fort visited by Custer before his last battle far to the north)

Tomorrow I head out of Fort Supply with one winter storm behind me, and a desert of white sand and stone ahead. I have been through larger towns, but the number of friendlier towns is a very short list short. Upon entering town I was pointed to Marty Logan's tornado storm bunker/cellar where I could set up my tent on the stone floor, work out my meals over my titanum zip stove, and be free to hear my thoughts out of the artic wind. I was told straight out by Marty that if I went further than Fort Supply on this night they would be looking for my body to put on a slab tomorrow. I was no sooner out of the 10 degree evening air in the cellar than the steel hatch door opened. A kind neighbor handed me a plastic bag with an assortment of food and dark chocolate. Mr. Young handed me the food and in a few minutes returned with a cot and a lattern to read by. In an hour the church came to save my soul from the remaining cold, and wouldn't hear my defense of the fine bunker that I felt I was more than blessed to have. In less than a hour TJ Diner opened its doors , and gave a table to this wandering wayfayer with my wallet being stapled shut by their kindness. "We're like family here at TJ's. Until you leave our town your part of our family."
At a diner named for being one of the top ten hamburger makers in OK I ate until the cold red left my face and a number of the locals in this town of four hundred people came in to talk the new off me.
When I first entered town I was stopped by prison guards on the bridge entering town. "He's not one of ours. Cut him loose."
The number of young pistols wanting to know my business has increased dramatically in the last few weeks until the worry of it began to invade not only long open miles but also my sleep. Alot of law inforcement officers have asked my story before OK. with lawful curiosity, and then crossed over into kindness. The ante' has increased. Hands now often rest on pistol grips. Eyes flinch like sparks trying to light. I have been taken from the fire while cooking buffalo burger in the dark by my tent and put in a state trooper car while my stats were run because my tent was forty five feet from the road even though the barb wire had no end in sight. When I was found to be clean, I was released without a handshake, a courtous good-night nod, or anything else more than the feeling that I was trash that should have a real job/life if I was worthy of breathing, or being a real man. Moving back away from Trooper Jones the same way I did when I got caught in quicksand and finally pulled myself free, I stared at my dead fire, the thin white fat in the fry pan and began to wonder if I would ever feel clean again.
Fort Supply is the beginning of the inner sun coming out. Miles ago Keith Carpenter and his son Brian gave me seven pounds of venison jerky to see me through the barren regions ahead. They also gave me back a sense of honor back in my step. Being alone, sleeping in the cold hungry, dirty, and tired, watching the holidays pass over the tables and backyards of strangers--everything within me becomes brittle the more the miles stretch, the harder the ice wind blows.
New people have entered my life that I could not have not known to pray for--yet pray I did because sleep and peace were being taken from me. I simply asked for the ability to cross open water without having ever seen water before. My mind, journey strong, still knew no way to feel safe as I passed over open ground where weathered cops, street battle worn, see drug runners in their sleep. In Osa McDowell's knife shop that sits on the main throughway or Fort Supply I pull out my MercWorks knife to show Osa my pocket trail blade. It is a serious professional blade. My clothes do not fit the dust and tumble weeds outside. My voice and cadence did not register as a local. Osa and I had already drew a bond and had shared many engrossing hours sharing our different worlds. A FBI sniper is in the shop to order a custom blade to fit his trade. He eyes me cautiously, deciphering, stacking details toward reason, toward questions he asked himself. When the air began to get to thick I explained who I was, what I was doing, and my tour with the elite 82nd. The air changed instantly, and a fasinating new friend entered my life. Special Agent John Davis did not fit ideas and prejudices that I managed to carry across America. John quickly asked me out to dinner to share our unique histories. John also served in the eighties and moved onto college, then the federal gov. I became a federial walker.
The waitress came to our table in Woodward three times and we still hadn't stopped rattling our mouths long enough to do more than glance at the menu's of the Italian resturant. When the waitress came back again I told her to pick out something for me. Food, the mother dream of my walk had fallen into the land of the unimportant. A relation that I did not know I had was just introduced. I wanted to hear every story. Time raced past with the food geting cold in front of me. Still, I ate and swollowed quickly so I could get to the next course of conversation.
Dinner moved meeting John's wife and daughter, my mouth running like a motor for hours, a couple of pictures taken, and the peace that my inner traveler needed was given to me. John gave me a contact to call if I should begin to drown. The evening rushed past in a blink. It was hours before I could sleep in the empty church. I had on a bright light on inside my head keeping me awake. Blessed, I finally fell asleep.
Days move quickly when everything is new. Rest soaked into my blood. Osa worked on a beautiful ivory handled knife I can wear on my yoke. His son stitched the new sheath. Fort Supply will be walking on with me when I saddle my pack in the morning. This is Fort Supply. Walking in to town with dejection on my brow, I am supplied with new reasons, warmth before the storms, and friends that demanded I open journal pages and untape the tip of a new pen. At Osa's house I eat pizza, yelp when I think I almost lost this story because I hit the sleep button by mistake. Osa Jr. saves it.
It would be easy to get mad. Why do wonderful souls scatter themselves so across this gigantic country? I can no longer look at these roads like I will never see them again. I walk across the road back to the church knowing that I will see Osa again. This road will know my feet.