Friday, October 24, 2008

On Starting and Strength

I conceived of hiking the perimeter of Texas in 2003. At the time, I was hiking along the 2200-mile Appalachian Trail, and it's a well-known fact that hikers enjoying themselves on one trail tend to start dreaming about hiking every trail known to man, especially long ones. My mind drifted toward the longer Pacific Crest Trail, the even longer less-developed Continental Divide Trail, the John Muir Trail, el Camino de Santiago in Spain, and so on and so forth. As I had nothing to do but walk and dream, it was an exciting time of prospects.

Since I was born and raised in Corpus Christi, I eventually settled upon walking along the edge of Texas. This seemed big enough, hot enough, and just crazy enough for a Texan. I decided that I would start and stop in my hometown Corpus, which is the city featured in the above photograph (taken by Annie Mascorro, my partner, and used with her reluctant permission). As I walked along the A.T., I knew for sure that I had stumbled upon something special in the contours of my mind.

Unfortunately, my reality was altogether incompatible with my dream. After having hiked for six and a half months and my partner Annie having hiked for three of them, we were not in a position to spend more money to support me just moving my legs. I took up some casual jobs in Texas and Montana, and in a wonderful twist, I started writing a column for the local paper in Missoula. I stopped thinking about the perimeter of Texas and instead concentrated on real world concerns like rent and food. Annie did the same, also squeezing a Master's degree out of our new arrangement.

Then we dropped everything and moved to Africa. We bought one-way tickets and didn't doubt ourselves. Within a few months, we were renting a home in Kankan, Guinea, hanging out with locals, spending our savings, and wondering what in the world we were doing with our lives. There's really nothing like being in an African village without a project to get your priorities straight. It's basically like summertime when we were kids, only without the obliviousness. Out of desperation, Annie and I started having daily talks about what to do with our lives, how to do it, why do it, when, where, everything. That's when the Texas hike came back into the picture.

We came home about nine months after we had told everyone that we were moving to Africa. Rashness works both ways, as this time our families were happy to have us back. Furthermore, we brought with us a steady determination. Annie started taking courses for a nursing degree, and I started planning my perimeter hike.

I wrote my original query letter to a list of twenty-seven newspapers along the perimeter of Texas. I wrote it in June of 2008. I measured the perimeter of Texas on a road map, calculating about 2500 miles with about 500 miles of error (This is not without reason. The coast, for example, is not straight, but I measured it as such. What I measured as 100 miles could very well be 125 or 150 depending on the irregularities of it. The mountains in the west will also add many miles to my initial base calculation.). I dreamed the idea into something fierce, got excited, but in the end, didn't do anything. I had so easily lost my sense of purpose.

This was not without some help from my friends and family. Had Ernest Shackleton received the amount of resistance I did for his idea of reaching the South Pole, he may have simply given up his life on the waters altogether. So I listened to the feedback, some of it quiet and withdrawn, and sat on my letter for a week. A week then turned into a month. A month turned into three. I picked up another menial job and was starting the same pattern as before.

Then something snapped. I got sick of sitting on the idea. In many ways, it is a life-extinguishing practice, trying not to live out a dream. So on October 5th, 2008, I sent out a mass email to the twenty-seven newspapers that I had found on or near the perimeter of Texas. And I waited.

Chris Cobler, the editor of the Victoria Advocate, wrote first. He was excited about the idea. We exchanged emails, me asking questions, Chris answering them, but the first real hurdle had been passed. My blood was flowing, and my head was clear again. I am grateful to Chris for his contribution of support without which I may not have had the strength to continue.

I am currently in negotiations with several newspapers across the state. This adventure will happen. It will be exciting. It will be hot.

Stay tuned.