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 February 2008

Roslyn Exposure

It is rare that I am in a town long enough to see the local paper hit the stands with a fresh interview painting my face somewhere upon the newsprint. When I am still on location I am excited, and yet there are the parts of my body coiled in a worrisome cringe; what sentence have I left open for misinterpretation, will three years of walking and writing about it's people be reduced into a 4"x4" frame with all intentions assumed and dismissed.
Jim Fossett from the NKC Tribume was an animated and enjoyable interviewer that hung on my every word, having driven directly to the Roslyn's City Hall across from The Brick to jump on the story. Even with the best of intentions some things get misprinted along the way. This is my journey though, my passion, so I will just clarify some points, remaining very thankful to Jim for his interest in this story.

The article opens up with a note from Ed Talhone, a trails expert at the American Hiking Society saying as many as five people hike across America each year. (What makes someone an expert on backpackers, or hikers that don't follow prescribed trails? As Einstein said, "genius is following your own trail?) Five people may walk across America on trails wobbling from coast to coast taking far less than 3 years ...but I have not walked trails across America or walked straight from A to B. I have walked 8,000 miles of small town America, blue highways, very limited trail use, gravitating toward places that caught my heart and imagination like here in Roslyn, Washington, Louisiana, New Mexico, and the mountains of Virginia where I sipped moonshine and smelled the heady sweet smell of corn mash coming through the trees. I have walked for nearly three years and still I heard about the fat man walking for months to lose weight. I know all about the man pulling the cross and where he was almost beat to death on Pig Alley...because I walked that street alone too. I have never met another man that walked this journey of three years and 8,000 miles with stops no more than a month long, and only one of those. (It was only in Thermopolis WY that I ever stay in one place that long.) Peter Jenkins is the only man I know of that walked a similar trek back in the seventies and I admire that, but I walk alone and it is 2008. Walks of this length are done very rarely, especially with a book of America always part of the original intention.
So, the shape of the walk is more of 'W' which was planned from the beginning, though the details of the walk are made along the way based on the seasons and the people I meet more than anything(although I often seemed to hit the worst of all weather wherever I walked).

I would love to agree that people fed me frequently. This is not true though, I was not even invited into a home until I got to PA. and I started walking in Maine, and most of the open land of the west is just that, miles and sometimes into a week before I'd see a lone ranch house.

It was in New Mexico that I was shot at. Although only once, 13 rounds with a rifle. I still can not hear a car backfire or a hunter shoot without new sweat instantly cold on my brow. My tent was hit that evening with one bullet and I was in that tent two hundred yards out against the mesa and shear rim rock walls without a stick to hide behind and bullets slapping around my head peeking out the tent flap door. 120 miles of empty desert still had to be walked through to the next town, Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Never did I break into anything locked...not even a fence. I did untwist barb wire to get to a windmill water tanks. This I have done many times and would have perished without.

Thank you again Jim Fossett for your time and labor. I talk fast and put out alot of information even when I am being recorded. This is all I do. After three years of walking and working across America I have not earned one dollar. Not One. Though my savings is battered it is this money I earned before the walk that I live on and that provides my food and provides for my needs. To be able to do this walk, to work in your fields, pick your fruit, level the door of your house, shingle your roof AND KNOW YOU, I have given my labor, my knowledge. I talk fast because this walk is the one thing that I know after three years of living it.
I am in Roslyn now and for this I am blessed.

16 February 2008

Chest In Snow

Passing through charming Eatonville where nearly everyone says hello and the rain goes unnoticed. Homes are lively colors and nature moves its hand in and out of yards. The snow in the last pass is behind me now and I regroup. It was an old granular snow that graveled repeatedly into my boots to soak my sock. The road narrowed as the plows loss a hold and the white line that held my route was buried along with the guard rails/
Earlier I gave a completion date. It was written in snow. There is no logic now except I still move under clouds toward a town that is making me work for the knowing of it. Once I either get to the little town of Roslyn, or surrender to lost trails I will give a more accurate date to hit Cape Flattery. This is the walk...the walk takes me.

12 February 2008

Fork In The Road(2)

Jennifer asks questions for the local Morton paper from under a Gibson hair style that is pinned in dark boyant loops. Her face is cream around bright shining eyes. It is a good thing that I know most questions by heart or I would stumble profusely. After all of this time it is still a high to sit beside a beautiful woman and just breathe it all in. My mind memorizes the silk of her perfume and the way her hand moves a pen. These are simple things. These are everything. On leaving she touches my arm. It is a short hold on my upper arm. My mind is still there; rings circling outward from where the stone hit the water.
This is the junction in the road. This is when I climb into the mountains and life altering/threatening snow or head north toward the big city of 'Sleepless' on route 7. My heart is too tired to head toward a love story so I feel my shoes turn back toward rt.12 to White Pass as I type. After all this walking there is still something that pulls me deeper inward and outward. I have walked to Walton's Mountain and felt the love of those kind people that I touch home with. Here I am on the other side of America and another television family calls me closer. As much as we deny it, we are touched by the lives portrayed on our little livingroom screens. We want to hear 'Chris In The Morning' come over our radio, and fall on our heart's mercy as dark haired Maggie O'Connell scurrys from her plane to the store/post with mail for us. My heart is from old blood that is spawned on by the blood of my grandparents grandparent's memory.
In town at the diner one woman asks my age I was when I started walking. "Around forty."
"Ahhhh," she smiles down at her bossom as if I just spilled it out for her. My mouth is too small to tell her that it isn't that simple, that it isn't some mid-life walk toward being twenty again. It is everything I have been preparing for since I was a child. She already has the box she believes I fit into all taped up.
(2 nights ago)
Outside of town I clear sharp rocks under a bridge so I can lie down and sleep. The creek is so loud, pregnant with rain, that I need earplugs to close my eyes. I need to wash my socks, buy food and forgive myself for taking a knife to my valuable sleeping pad to make insoles for my severly blistered feet. New boots are slow horses to break. This is today's truth.
Days ago I gather the footprints of mountain lion that walked the snow around my tent as I slept. I melted this into water for coffee. Our ancestors once drank out of buffalo horns to gain the strength of the great beast. I do not know why I cook on wood charred by lightning, or smoke sage, cedar and roots dried from this journey in deserts past into blue smoke for my tent though a patina brown wing bone. Nobody is watching...that I can see with these eyes.

*** update

After walking into the rain and dark last night, climbing into the mountains and setting up the little lodge in waist high ferns I study the map. Roslyn will be 160-180 miles ONE WAY. I'll still have to hike out and the pass will surely close again. Plans change. Walkin 8 miles back into Morton I head up route 7 to routre 161 and Mount Rainer then some how around it to the town I have grown a passion for. Roads fall away and I will have to run by compass as I did in the desert of Utah without tar or peopled opinion pro or con. It finally feels right.

08 February 2008

Winter Unkind

(** if you are curious and have time to do the net the www.newportnewtimes.com (Jesse WhiteCrow Walks America), newspaper did a story on the walk which includes a full color shot showing the map of the walk up to the coast of Oregon. Some details of the story are not accurate...but these were little details). The photo is of the map I still carry and update. It has seen much love, and enjoys being pulled out for story time or receiving any additional ink showing the basic line backpacked.

Coming from a year of walking in the American deserts it is hard to walk through a land where they measure the minutes of sun, the intermissions of blue between days of spoiling clouds. My thinking has undertaken a change too; it had to or I would be all for running toward a hot-tub with a handful of razors at this point. No matter how it rains I wrap all my assurance around keeping my journals and maps from absorbing the waters I plod through, and my sleeping bag is something only seen through a clear giant plastic bag, a bag I short sheeted a Tillamook park garbage can for(leaving an older and smaller black common trash bag in exchange). The luxury of a down sleeping bag against my skin is just that, a luxury, and one I can't afford. The sleeping bag nolonger comes close to enveloping my body. It has been reduced to a plastic patch of consistent warmth that I stake my life under--against hypothermia and somewhere just this side of cold holding tight to the one healing square of warmth I count on. It is not much, but I am thankful for the grace of this one predictability even in a well hydrated tent. This winter there are few sure things that are dry and all seams feel the strain.
Given a home cooked meal and a chance to dry a few pounds off CrowDog I wobble about the kind Hall household barefoot and light headed from the deep warmth of a roaring fireplace. All roads toward Roslyn are down, dead, shut, covered over, closed to me. Still, I talk to strangers as if in convincing them on my need to cross the range ahead I will receive the allowance I pray for, the pass to the lower 48th 'Alaska'. The weather channel predicts that the interstate may open by mid-day tomorrow; that the mountain passes may stop being covered in slides, and avalanches may stop moving houses off foundations with waves of snow. Interstates are of no use to me, and avalanches are the norm on all the central Washington roads I contemplate taking. This is the worst winter many can remember, people that have lived here all their life. Everything is off the chart...yet this has been the walk, this has been the America I've walked,...if there was an easier season for a region I walked through I seemed to have missed it.
Tomorrow I'll re-supply here in the town of Toledo, and head through the Lewis and Clarke Old Growth Forest as I pack northeast, and still on toward Roslyn. It will do my heart good to see the ancient giants, to get a better perspective of my little stroll and remember the length and width of the short number of days we are blessed to live and wander, next to my height of vain want.
There is too much rain to walk with my head down hoping precipitation stops, so I have stopped wearing self tinting glasses that only makes the clouds enter me darker than they already are.
From Morton I head north toward---I head north toward more thinking and serious snow, maybe more snow than I have ever seen. Maybe I will stay on east straight over White Pass. Something I can't quite comprehend calls me on into blizzards and multiple feet of snow without half the cold weather gear I pulled behind me and a pathetic one man tent that allows the wind and too much rain to leach through. I have returned to resorting to nature, natural land formations for shelter and shielding walls of blow downs with a new hunger, and new fears. Two nights ago I had my best rest tucked in the roots of an old growth cedar while the wind and rain chewed this world. For a night I was a squirrel even to the point of waking to eat a pocket of salted cashews, listening to the other trees moan and beat out their complaints in cold bone branches against one another before I curled into a deeper sleep among red knotted knuckles in a wet grin. Often what was land when camp was set is an island by morning. Several times I changed my mind at the last second and restaked my claim to see I would have lost everything had my heart not been troubled by a breeze or a silent voice I didn't knew I heard. Rivers and creeks rise a foot an hour without tiring so often it is common to walk on into the dark with a blinking lamp tied to CrowDog warning the world I walk the night road for sometimes hours before I will find a rise with a flat table of ferns, or an old inclined logging road the new growth has taken back in patches. The lines between brave and coward, fool and sensible are made liquid and unknowable. Miles move slower. Food becomes simple and I chew to get nowhere. I simply eat and hear my breathing before I begin again. Yesterday has spoiled away against any need to remember with concern and tomorrow may float away tied to the bottomside of a log regardless of how much I plan. This is not a bad thing, this being here, being here now on this side of some unnamed turn in the road working over a moist bagel and half a carrot I've carried for sixty miles, watching geese discuss the seven types of water in their native language, unconcerned with my listening. This is where their arrowhead flight has taken them with my two legs slowly following. The inner glue that holds all thoughts and reasons together has becomes weakened.
A week from the Isakson's and my feet are still dry in new boots though. This is a large thing to write. Right now this is so very much.

01 February 2008

Walking Down

Although I climb now into Mount Rainer before again hooking toward the western coast, I am winding down the walk to Cape Flattery on the Washington N.W. coastal point. In approx. 5 weeks the walk will be over except for the last ten to twenty miles to be shared. (Of course this date will be fine tuned as I leave the land of extreme weather for the coast of rain so completion plans can be made.) All are welcome from across America to come and walk this last day(or as much as your comfortable walking)as I take the last steps to the sea. Some have already made plans, and there are those that would love to be there but are unable. I will be beyond thrilled to walk the last miles with those I have met across this country of ours. Even if you are unable to make the distance to northern Washington I will carry names, faces, memories of all of you that have shared your lives and personal America with me. This has been the walk based on a child's dream. This has been the walk of a lifetime.
I will update dates and information as possible.

(Taken from the children's book Paddle To The Sea)

For that instant he looked like his own paddle.
There was a song in his heart.
It crept to his lips.
But only the wind and the water could hear.
You little traveler, you made the journey, the long journey.
You know things I have yet to know you little traveler.
You are given a name , a true name in my father's lodge.
Good medicine little traveler.
You are truely a paddle person.

(As read by Chris in the Morning, KBHR radio, 'Northern Exposure' ep. The Final Frontier / Paddle To The Sea)

Leaving Vernonia (3)

Tomorrow I leave camp Isakson and even if the weather wasn't this rain, this perpetual wetness, there would still be an internal pang to compliment leaving. Another connection has been made; another valuable bead on a story belt, a belt now heavy with blessings...wealth beyond the value of currency. For a small town two months after a 4'deep flood, shops and homes with a river running through them, Vernonia has been one of the most receptive towns in western America. Standing in front of the town market spoon deep into a can of cold chowder I watch several locals look curiously at CrowDog, preparing to ask the usual spin before placing me and this journey in a box to make them feel more comfortable. The difference in Vernonia is that I am not placed in a convenient four walled container. Bill, proprietor of Cafe' 47, gives me a strong hand embrace and promises dinner on the house that evening, anything on the menu is mine for the asking. A few hours later I am elbows deep in tender wildberry glazed ribs, potato chowder that is both smoke and a ember of warmth lingering on my tongue,sweet peach cobbler and ice-cream that is a pool of sugar rising in steam, and the folding and unfolding of maps with adhesive fingers. A glow of temporary star status emerges as my autographed picture on walk cards is mounted on the wall over the dining table I've engaged for dinner, right beside Buffalo Bill Cody and several native chiefs in all their pre-reservation glory; all within a wall of Americana artifacts.
We are back at the store now though and it is still afternoon. Rhonda Isakson is moving past me fast in route to the thousand tasks that take up a day of a wife, mother, and working woman. When Rhonda asks an opening question at the storefront in passing she applies brakes to her feet, her day; becomes the lady at the well, and feels my thirst in the pulse of my answer. From taking pictures with her two children when she re-finds me at the post office I am given an open door into their home later that evening. Rhonda's husband is Christian, a fireman/emergency rescue worker as well as a triathlete who has shined through many Ironman competitions and understands intimately the rules of engagement, of living within a level of training that never ends. We bond within our first handshake, share an understanding outside of words, veterans that don't have to talk about the heat of fire and sacrifice, pain or isolation. The memory of it is a given, a mutual respect that drapes over into trust. Days here at the Isakson's have passed in five fearfully fast sunsets; the way I am afraid a lifetime passes after childhood is put away, and tomorrow I will walk on having been extremely blessed by my time spent here with Rhonda and Christian, and their seven year old son Ian and thirteen year old daughter Evelyn. Again I am handed a picture of family to move my fingers over and advance my understanding of the internal workings of love and commitment, family and gentleness being strength. Leaving for school, I am asked several times by Ian and Evelyn, "Jesse, you will be here when we get home tonight won't you? You won't leave us while we're gone? Right?"
"I could not, would not with a fox," I grin at Evelyn, and feel that old familiar hand open inside my chest, a hand dropping everything I know. A hand that will gather together again when I do leave, feeling certain I have lost something when walking away comes. Family. Even practiced, leaving is art best left to stronger men. I feel reserve unfurling. The precipitation on our faces is a premonition of the day to come. We have practiced good-byes every morning without getting the stronger for it.
Among too many gifts to count the Isakson's have also provided me with my 28th pair of boots, the final pair needed to complete this walk. The last pair of boots purchased by Chuck and Hanna(his canine traveling companion) on the east side of the Sawtooth Mountains have withstood more aggressive terrain and weather, swallowed more miles than any other boots of the walk. Now, with all the life walked out of them, I am taking off the Tecnica dog covers for the last time, surrendering the old skins into the new shoe box, remembering to pause and whisper thanks. Under rested shoulders I stitch the depression era Indian nickles that decorated the Tecnica boots (and many pairs before them) onto the new Merrell boot insteps. In three sleeps I will be in Washington.