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.

26 April 2008

Last Snow

What was promised has made the field outside white again. I still sleep in the tepee tent by the open window on white carpeting so I felt the weather coming in, felt the lite down bag begin to work at keeping me unaware of cold falling down. Writing the book is learning new skills, and abandoning trails that lead in circles, over paths I didn't intend to take. For a week I walked around this desk and drew maps holding pictures of where we met. It wasn't until I told an old acquaintance about my journey in three sentences and saw her eyes glaze over that I knew I had to sit down and capture what it was that I experienced before time erased the details and stunted the passion. When we finally realize we are going to die we sometimes become the most worthy of living
Everyday I am with you now as journals are gleaned and poured over and I am so thankful, still sitting on that stripped roof beside pallets of shingles watching dog eared tar paper talking to the wind while you compare your road to mine until we are both longing, and yet know we have chosen our roads well. I can't carry every act or gesture into print and this is some level of sadness, as if you'll think I don't remember your couch and waking to your children staring inches from my face, as if you didn't open your Mexican pantry and tend to me with sardines and hash while your tractor froze to the field.
In a week I go to Iowa to speak to seven classes at a school in the town of Nevada. What is not in print, what you can't know is that you'll be there too. Not a hand is raised or a question taken in that doesn't make me reach back to the time when I was in your town, and slept under your sky. Already I have talked to many schools across America and it still takes me days to come down again. To talk about ones passion is to smile until the face hurts. There will be another journey. For now I cut, paste and remember laughing with Amish children, and the joy of eating a whole coconut custard pie while sitting in a snow bank watching your buggy trot past.

15 April 2008

Gear That Made The Grade

Taking things out of the Dana Design Long-bed external frame pack(CrowDog)it appears to be time to make lists of the gear that earned their keep. The entire blog is printed out inches thick. Pictures fill ten disc's and journals still hold to their dozen tall stack in wait to be tugged and filtered, enhancements and the knife. It has begun.

Katadyn hiker pro water filter and storage sack.(I also used a First Need water filter but changed over after the second filter went belly up in Louisana due to stagnant crawling slithering water. No way to really back flush the sealed system.)

Polar Bottle was a gift in the Sawtooth Mtns. It is a plastic water insulated water bottle with a nipple that can be removed and cleaned then replaced. Nice. Helped keep water water in a frozen tent, and held off some of the inexhaustable sun.

The back of a roadside life vest was cut and sewn into a seat pad for all of those thousands of rest stops where I sat on every nasty, cactus spike as well as snow bank. Priceless!

Snowpeak has been gold to me. I carried a double walled giant titanium coffee type cup that served for every eating task that wasn't consumed straight from the pot, as well as the french press I designed for it. It never failed. One of my truly prized pieces of the walk. I engraved the exterior with a diamond bit and trinkets(old earrings and rings I was given along the journey) decorated the handles. Native art in the most modern/traditional tradition. It was lost for a month early in the walk(left on the back of a gas station tollet).I wailed in a frozen pumpkin patch. Stripped of art and enhancements it is a sixty dollar cup with tax. Have I mentioned that I love it. Even a tooled sterling and ivory lid to keep the coffee hot. That's love.

The MSR fusion two man tent was a bit stout in weight...but it took me in and out of every extreme. I had nearly 2' of snow on the roof at a time and 70mph winds(separately) and it held firm. Even saw me through a tornado...squished but sprang back. 27 people died that day. I had no idea how close I was to joining them. (TN)When the tent just plum wore out I sewed it into a new pack cover. Having a brown tent of pack cover is extremely smart. So often I wanted to become a knoll of sand ..so I did. This tent was my favorite and an absolute blessing.

Small zip pouch with assorted teas...all decaf for evenings around the fire or talking softly to maps, considering roads to hoe, and journaling. A nice coming down after a 25 mile day carrying 70 pounds up a slow grade that never ends.

Separate pouch for water bottle...it stunk but it was what I had so I endured never finding a better replacement. Dana Design. The one I began with died In the searing south. It was perfect.

Evernew titanium deco tea pot. The lid loves to hop up from a good seal as the water heats. I always grumbled over as I shoved it back with scorched fingers..but I really like the pot. The round belly bottom third makes easy cleaning and allows me to fit A lot of food in a small container. Constantly in use. Needs decorating...I'll get on it.

Each yoke shoulder strap has a pouch. Both are nearly white now. They were black. Here is where I put my 82nd Airborne Division patches/and rank. They got my hand shaken a lot, especially in Texas. Nice. The pouches were so nessary, so part of a working system. For toothpaste and a brushing, camera, and lip balm nobody wants to drop the house every time you down a Snickers.

One small Sea To Summit water proof bag. This was a last resort dry bag. I don't think I ever pushed its limits but it always gave piece of mind;vital papers, pictures, sage, bear claws, windproof matches, pack towel,beaver teeth...you know, the usual.

I love titanium but a good fry pan is a must for a pancake junkie so I took a saw to a nice aluminum pot and made a fry pan with a coated finish that loved to make great cakes as much as I love eating them. 8 ounces but love is love. I made the handle out of a wooden carving tool handle, brass tacks and aluminum muffler tape. I tried to walk without it for a few weeks. Boy, those were long weeks of muttering bad words at a too thin pan that burned batter on contact. Out of a pack towel I sewed a cover for my good fry pan. It protected the cook finish...and I could decorate it.

A first aid pouch crammed fat with all kinds of goop and body patches I never used.

A glow in the dark frisbee was my dinner plate. I rarely used it but sometimes I was sharing a fire and offered a dinner. It was nice to pull out my hand carved bear spoon and frisbee...and happy smile wired to my stomach.

Most always a gortex parka and pants. I used a marmot rain coat, and north face pants that were too thin for even the dullest briar.

All fabrics were/are earth tones. Never did I want to advertise my place in field, woods or desert. This military mind set served me greatly...probably saved my life.

A lot of gear I handmade or tweaked beyond the term of simple so I can not fairly say that I used a standard.... Often standard was over produced or wimpy. This is where passion and experience come in.

The sleeping bags changed depending on season. Through out LA. and a lot of serious desert I went without a sleeping bag. In the Rockies I sometimes carried two. (one very light weight to double up with). I only used down. This takes special care. Because this was keeping me alive I find this care to be a small tax. I used primary Feathered Friends -30 sleeping bag and a 20 degree Mountain Hardwear. Both were flawless.

Except for winter hats I always wore a Tilley wide brim hat in cotton or nylon. They are expensive but do what I need and replace for free. The sweatband needs special care or it smells awful day after day in the desert but most people are less a stranger to soap than I was. I just couldn't afford to waste water washing. When I washed a pot I drank the water. On filthy days my legs got one cup of water to come clean. I hate sleeping with my legs sweat/filth welded together.

Though I carried a bug head net it was unness. When the flying devils got too intense it was usually tent time and too @%##!** hot to re-breathe what I just steamed out into a fine mesh head cover at 120 degrees.

MSR makes a folding spatula. Nice. A must have.

Just before the end of the walk I was given a three quarter length Thermarest pad that went through a flood. I got 'let down' by so many inflatables I shrugged that I'd try it. It was the only one that didn't fail. I was sooo happy. I was sleeping on a hard solid Thermarest on feet of snow before that and nights were painfully long. Not good.

Carring a couple of very large clear strong plastic bags that saved my sleeping bag in extreme rain for 2 months straight. Now one seems a smart staple.

A golf umbrella saved me from life as a raisin and rain down my spine...high winds.. forget it. Lost my prize umbrella in Idaho. I walked back up a canyon 8 miles on suicide turns only to see it had been adopted. Gone. It was 500 miles before I got another large umbrella from a kind postal employee. It wasn't a Gust-buster from Brookstone like the one I lost but it was some protection in the land that never stopped raining.

The titanium flask from Snowpeak was a gift in Penn. from Basecamp. I kept it filled with Capt. Morgan spiced rum when I could to celebrate great turning points in the walk and share with special people. Now I can't look at it without seeing the hundred faces that sipped from it. It became incredibly valuable..and will always be.

Basically the clothes I wore was the bark and the dog. I did carry a fleece sweater/windproof, several scarfs, and socks. Nothing cotton. Period. The socks were usually Workwear with Patagonia liners. Four pr. of each. The Workwear socks are similiar to Smartwool but a bit lighter as I have hot feet and size 14 shoes are hard enough to find in West Nowhere.

Gaiters were a constant to keep out stones, ticks, rain, sun and keep socks cleaner. Funny thing is that many people looked down their nose at them. "Why do You wear Those things?" As if the way they asked would have me running for a trash can to dispose them. Never. They work, and work hard. I wore through two pairs. One pair was Mountain Hardwear. They were the toughest. They hide a knife and a gold coin well too. If you have to ask... I am not airport friendly.

The cedar flute I made before the walk and its case did the whole walk. I didn't always take it out( as my playing will attest) but I loved that it was ready to compliment any season or mountainside .....batteries never included. It has similar stories as the flask.

Food food food. A lot..well almost all of my food came from Mom and Pop's dusty shelves across America. Yes, the reporters got this right, I did catch and kill to eat but we're not talking moose here...the other end of the telescope. Couscous, instant mashed potatoes, jerky, dried corn, oatmeal, Bisquick, chili peppers, rice, and everything I could glean from the land. Everything.

A couple of pens, stamped postcards, and scrap paper made up the office. Nothing fancy. Maps of course, and an always present journal by Moleskin, in a cover of beaded buffalo skin I made for the journey that only got more beautiful. Worthy of holding every story I was given.

A small titanium Snowpeak (sierra type design) was the work horse of my kitchen; coffee cup for strangers, pancake batter, mix bowl,and bath cup. Fresh (when possible) coffee beans were crushed in my double walled titanium cup with a stick I cut daily. As wood became less abundant I carved a nude woman out of gifted scrap mahogany. Her name is Latte' and in her hand she holds a miniature version cup. Through years of cook fires and tumbling in leaves and back into the pack she is the deepest brown to black and heavily oiled from coffee beans with a carved feather in her waves of hair. She is very high in caffeine.

Carried are two headlamps. One ties to the pack frame and blinks when the road is hazardous. Petzl is the maker of both and one is fully adjustable...although the blinking when the battery is low is plain stupid. The human eye will overlook a light in the woods. Nobody overlooks a blinking light. From a broken tail light I carved a red filter. That helped.

If I detail this to death I could write all day so I will round it off.My only surviving camera is a Casio 6.o mega pix digital. I love it. Tiny and great. The resulting photographs I captured are super. You'll see. One stove are a titanium Primus the company gifted me (the only company that gifted me anything) that runs on those small pressure gas cans that screw into the stove. At 2 1/2 ounces it is a constant back-up...and in months of rain the only stove I use. The titanium Sierra Zip stove is another item of love complete. I cooked with everything from moose dung to pine cones that fell on my grandparents grave when I visited for tea and thinking before I started walking. The stove runs a very small blower in the bottom of a double wall pan that has holes in it. It is a hot blaze when tinder is set inside and a flame is added. For 90% of the walk I carried no fuel. BLISS! The stove is highly decorated with a sterling war metal from my grandfather, metal tag from the year of my birth, and a silver plate marking the journey across America.

Yes there is still more...but to tie up the bag I will just add the knives I carried. For more than the first half of the walk I carried a Pipe hawk I made before the walk, weapon, tool and pipe I did rarely smoke with sage,cedar bark, and sweetgrass.

I Bartered an old blade and a gold coin for a Jefferson Spivey Cross Country Saber Tooth Knife in Cody, WY to stand off bears with.(designed by a man that rode a horse across America) I'd lose but I'd stand ...and did stand. You only run when there is somewhere to run to. I loved that my index went through a hole just short of the long razor edge so even in a struggle the retention remains. Of course I brass tacked the rosewood grips. Sadly I lost a couple blades, but adopting a few that I was given by friends including a Cold Steele knife Trail Master that was made for an adventure. The MercWorks pocket knife got attention when I pulled it out, and it was all business, truly my intimate knife that was made to gut and skin, set emergency snares, and out survive us all.

With all the laws regarding firearms and state lines I will dance over this last topic by saying I carried what I could when I could. In the south west I found a .22 against a rifle was worthless. Then, that's another story.

11 April 2008

New Snow Rising

Eating a scone, I move to the sliding glass doors that open to the balcony, chew without tasting; taking in calories I am no longer desperate for. Dry swallow swallowed. New snow is falling down, moving through the trees wearing that familiar white lace and pearl gown I used to watch her disrobe just for me. Being inside while it snows, drinking this tea...watching her, this woman of sky, move while unaware I'm watching...I feel like I am with another lover three stories up, yet alone. I am cheating on her in secret and it is only wounding me. I am behind glass standing on white carpet. She only knows that she knew me well more than a few yesterdays ago. She only knows it is spring and we had the last three whole winters together before fingers that held tight, opened. She is a more subtle memory now, delicate, a whisper turned down low and smelling slightly like ice breaking evergreen. Soon she'll be reduced to just this memory note. Who I was has also evaporated, risen up through the ceiling vent to the outside world, up past the yellow, red, green and blue kite abandoned to struggle in the leafless treetops outside this door; a reduction of myself putting everything tied by one strong string waiting on the next passing wind; putting everything into the ink of a pen.
The book gets louder, more demanding. Thank God. I can't bear another brush of soft suggestion. The floor of my room is thirty five maps moving toward a bed I won't lay on. The desk is feathers, a snake rattle, the first moleskin walk journal open, spine broken, and twenty pieces of longing; confessions shaped into bone, an ounce of Canadian gold sewn into a boot toe, silver beads separating claws on a string, and a worn pocket full of trinkets that smells like walking in a humid summer. If I just get it down on paper I can start to breathe deeply again knowing I no longer have to carry this all inside, hands already full and spilling.

03 April 2008

Becoming Unplugged

There was a part of me that was going to give this text up. There is a pile of journals on the floor twelve thick and I haven't re-read a page. They are thoughts digested and I have to chew these feelings now. Why not share the flavor; meditate on the texture, the grain, and try very hard not to swallow until I know if it will nourish me, sour my blood, weaken my bile. Or worse.
How do we come back...really? Crawl up and out of the forest floor trying not to wake the sweet gum tree beside us? Comb the desert and three years of wind and silica from our hair using a brush with two broken teeth (a brush that sheaths a hidden knife)? Pretend ignorance until we forget what we've learned? Do we sit in a dark room until our old distasteful habits call out our name in a voice that sounds like corn husks falling on flagstone and then let the old habits spoon beside us until they smell comforting again like a reason and a cause to regress; and worst of all, they again smell safely familiar? Do we disregard praying for everything and become thankful for nothing because... well. lets face it, we have so much? Early on I believed that I had enough time to figure it all out, to make a perfect peace in a littered skull; sweat out salt until there is no more salt to give my shirt. The few pictures I carried were enough then, a folded dead marriage, an old lover lost, and a grizzly claw stained with my grandmother's red paint, a 14k gold watch whose guts fell out within the first miles of the walk so I glued in a round quarter size mirror where the face was and then rarely looked in it again.
Maybe we will all sit down together when the music stops and there will be enough chairs, and I won't feel this 'ashes, ashes all fall down' feeling coursing through my veins. Time grows comfort.
Today I staked open maps with blood lines running through the heart of each state I walked through and thought that it should have taken longer to the point of cursing the miles I hurried through. In another pile newspaper stories, old but new to me, flattened one another with their weight. My eyes in all the pictures, at least they looked like my eyes, all have 'the look'; a cross between falling in love...and just falling without consideration over gravity's intent.
If the preparing to walk America was important it is even more important to write the last pages.... the long awaited kiss felt round and full. Will the man get the woman? Will the castaway 'get rescued' and leave the island without forever looking back? Now that our character has learned how to travel in time, can he be at peace living in the present?
This must be one of the short comings in living a dream designed by a child, for as a child I never designed in a return. The walk was my Radio Flier, a wagon that could take me away perpetually from sadness to bounty, from neglect(even when self induced)to embrace. The walk was the air in the lungs of Simon Birch; promising myself if I went under the surface of the pond over and over, longer and longer, extending my ability to hold my breath, I would never again have to surface and plead for air. Now I know that all along it was the walk itself that was my home. There was no destination. No longitude or latitude crossed bars setting a cage for me to fall into. When I walked I belonged.

01 April 2008

The Morning After

As I begin to gather and separate I realize I will not carry away everything that has taken place. Everything that has taken place will not live again in the book, for whom could carry the weight? So I write little things; notes between classes that in some way prepare me for the real assignment. Maybe if I were to really talk to you I would never mention the pants that I wore for three years, the dog cuff I made of tooled quarter inch leather and wore to fight roving strays, or the 28 pairs of boots I killed. Maybe I would just talk about the comfort of a good chair, and how special it is to not look out for ants before I sit down, and no longer needing to dust off my pants when I stand. Maybe I would just sigh a lot and you would think I was just tired. I have learned another language since I left you. That means I have gained another soul according to the old men. Mostly I am quieter now having heard all of my conversations as of yet unspoken, and in that I can remain silent a lot more, and need to be right a lot less.
The day after the walk ended I did walk into the ocean. I had to. You understand. I would still be there if I didn't..and then again, that would be alright too. Now though, I am in Minnesota and no longer wet in ice water to my thighs and sticky with salt water over sweat. Even though it is not detectable yet, not to our eyes, photographs have already begun to fade; soften at the edges. That is the difference between yesterday and today and it carries a new pang.
The morning after I went to to the school in Clallam Bay where I was asked to speak for twenty minutes. Hours later I was gratefully still speaking; in the gym talking to the bleachers of faces, standing in front of crowded class rooms and meeting halls and making children giggle in the over-flow rooms as I told them about how large swamp snails tasted like toes. The childhood delight of a month without a shower. With my words I took them camping with no end in sight. With my words I took them to 'where the wild things are' and they all wanted to know what we'd be eating come dinner time.

Evening came in bearing a privilege I will always greatly treasure. Polly of the Makah Tribe helped organize a dinner to honor my journey and the tribe embraced me with freshly caught fish cooked traditionally into a soup, buck skin Indian bread, and wild blackberries over cake and whip cream. The women of the tribe danced the shaw Welcoming Dance to the singing and drumming of a tribal brother and we were all transported somewhere ancient. The elders told BaseCamp(she joined me for the last miles and to drive me to Minnesota) and myself about the old ways, and the strengths and challenges facing the tribe today. As I stood as requested to tell some of my stories I received many gifts to include a homemade drum made from wood and stretched over with raw hide, a tribal sweatshirt, miniature paddle to connect the tribes relationship with the sea, and a string of olive shells beaded and placed around my neck. One of the deepest joys was the nodding approval of the elders as I told of simpler things regarding the walk, the quieting of my heart, my new found relationship with the earth and my survival largely based on the old ways that appear now largely ignored.
Later in the night, when my flute was silent and stories tired, I lay on the floor in Polly's den beneath the wide old growth cedar planks painted traditionally with eagles and long beaked birds, ironing out the days events into terms I could relate and remember. Mostly I lay there and heard my friend Kirin talking her sleep talk over on her sleeping mat. I smiled and wondered if I missed something that kept me from sleeping. Had the Creator given me a sign, a new job and I was too tied up in myself to listen? Surely He would get my attention if He desired it. On the walls above me eagle feathers hang down shining like scales. I know this is where I come from and I can smell the rightness in it, this is my world and I smile without moving my face.

Alone With Your Drum

Walking the final miles to Cape Flattery was all the rose and thorn you'd expect with nearly three years of walking coming to a conclusion. My emotions were as tender as my feet. No. My emotions were my feet as final miles, laced with gravel, scuffed under me.
It was rumored to be so, but I was still surprised when I got to the Cape and the crashing ocean was three stories down cupping in and out of the cliffs. Untouchable. In the morning I will move around this wall of stone because otherwise tonight the thought of not touching the water would steal my sleep. Tomorrow I will walk into the waves. Tomorrow I will rise and walk into the ocean with the sun rising on CrowDog. Today though, together with a few friends we drink the bubbling glasses of wine and I pour an ounce over CrowDog as he leans against the protective coral of fence that keeps up from falling into the rock and ocean below. CrowDog is just staring at the ocean silent as a stick. CrowDog still looks strong, ready, perhaps a trace disappointed even; as if I had not dreamed a journey big enough for his metal shoulders, as if I had not taken in the width and stability of his frame, or mine, and I kept the sun off his cordova nylon skin through three years of sun only to now let him dry rot away in some tired closet. "Why stop," he asked simply without moving, without mouth, without looking at me. All my inner protests are weak; not protests at all. Looking out at the same lighthouse island, past the same crockery of stone far off, garnished in waves and softened by the coming sleet storm, I too begin to wonder through the sweet flavored plastic smile of my cup. CrowDog carries the last full journal so I don't have to tell him about the book I need to write. No need to preach to the choir. CrowDog whispers so only I can hear,"Then what?" Any answer I give short of walking on I know would have no pulse, no possibility of being believed so I just listen to my half circle of friends as today's miles drain from my muscles. BaseCamp Kirin (changed her name from Betty), Lisa from Thermopolis WY, Stan (a new friend), Polly from the Makah tribe witness the last hour of the walk. They soften the sound of the ocean. They soften the tide roaring in my head. The sound of hundreds of coastal birds looking for a mate stills nothing. Sleet begins to pelt onto my hat and then pushes us back into the woods. From no one direction the settlement calls out. The domesticated yawn of predictable days and weeks already makes requests from far away in a voice I had forgotten but never missed... from far off on the other side of the woods it stretches out. In a couple of days I will be in north central America surrounded by boxes overstuffed and spilling socks and sleeping bags, shirts and parka's, cook sets and trail worn high-lighted maps . I will find your address and write you a letter with missing words because my mind will be running too fast. I will call your radio station and tell you the world isn't flat and you won't believe me. On my bedroll in a tent set up in an apartment in MN. beside a perfectly good bed, walk-in closet filled with my gear, and my own bathroom I will lie on the perfectly flat floor with no pine cones knuckling my shoulders and hear my heart complain. There will be no smell of earth on my hands and I will not hear the rain tapping fingers over my head, or punch out at mice in my sleep. Nothing will be wet in the morning.
Tomorrow I will start looking at pictures to show you, and begin the careful task of remembering...so very afraid I'll forget.