Monday, September 28, 2009

Days Twenty-Three through Thirty-Two

Windmill, Palacios, Matagorda County, Day 20
. . .
I am currently in Houston, living large with my cousin Cat. When I showed up to Galveston, I was limping a little from the four or five blisters I had picked up along the way. Normally, my calluses are enough to stave off any nasty, bubbly blistery trouble, but I pushed a little extra hard to get there, walking around 50 miles in two days. Maybe the previous days' wanderings contributed too. Here they are in brief:

Day 23: Somewhere just shy of Old Ocean, about 14 miles
Day 24: Brazoria (via the back roads), about 15 miles
Day 25: A zero day in Houston
Day 26: Quintana, 20 miles
Day 27: Just shy of San Luis Pass (I went back up to Freeport for mail), about 25 miles
Day 28: Galveston, about 25 miles
Days 29 - 32: A zero weekend in Houston

Wetlands Project Sign, Matagorda County, Day 21
(Note: The domes in the background belong to a nuclear power plant on 521.)
. . .

I am taking full advantage of having family in the area. My parents swung by on Day 24 because my dad had some business at MD Anderson in Houston. I went to a hospital class with both parents (and tweeted about it) and was later taken back to where I left off. I then got picked up by my cousin in Galveston on Day 28, and we've been hanging out since. Also, a huge thank you to Nate and Fatma who let me crash in their garage in Bay City on the night of Day 22.

Truck on Pier, Galveston, Galveston County, Day 28
. . .
Triangular Beach Houses, Surfside Beach, Brazoria County, Day 27
. . .
A few thoughts in the last week:

* There are two types of interactions on this trip, my virtual ones (family and friends via phone, email, and texting) and my real life ones. The difference is stark. The presence of someone - even a stranger - is sometimes preferable to a virtual contact simply because that person is right there. This kind of interaction and communication has a more profound impact for reasons I have yet to understand.

Since breakfast with Nate this morning and a short conversation with a fellow at the donut shop, I've had no other meaningful face-to-face conversations with people all day. I've mostly talked on the phone (five conversations) and texted (over a dozen). I'm subsisting on a virtual community, but I need the one I'm in.
Cross on Telephone Pole, Matagorda County, Day 21
. . .
* It's been great to see my folks during the trip, but I wonder what it's doing to the trek's continuity. I suppose you could argue that it is what it is, that there aren't rules to this thing. But I feel myself getting yo-yoed back and forth between the two worlds.

I was a homeless person to the Sonic staff today. That is, until my parents showed up, gave me hugs and kisses, and reduced their idea of me to a large, dirty
boy scout. Not that a person should think one thing or another, but whatever reality we're creating is getting disrupted or in this case abruptly redefined. I don't know how I feel about that. Then again, it is what it is.
Texan Mailbox, Matagorda County, Day 23
. . .
Stone Hedge?, Brazoria County, Day 27
. . .
* How much am I really learning about Texas? I read a few books, talked to a few people. There's too much! It's too epic! I'm a little kid begging for tales, and there's no time to hear them all.

But I am learning something. There's a heartbeat around here somewhere.
Fresh Seafood, Matagorda County, Day 23
. . .
Church, Matagorda County, Day 21
. . .
That's all for this installment. There is much much more coming up. Please stay tuned.
Beach Landmark, Brazoria County, Day 27
. . .
Until next time, readers...

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Faces of Texas

"I pray to God to give me work."
- Maricela Ayala on running her business, Maricela's Cafe.
She is pictured taking the needles off
of cacti, or nopales, a task in which I helped out.
Palacios, TX
. . .
"They're a lot of people without jobs...
but God won't give us something we can't handle."
- Nicole Saldierna on the local economy.
This statement was taken from a casual
conversation with other patrons of Maricela's Cafe.
Palacios, TX
. . ."They hear a calf in another pasture, they go crazy.
They'll bust the fence down to get to that calf. It's instinct."
- Brad McClelland talking about a cow
that had gotten hit by a car that morning.
The cow had recently been separated
from its calf and had already busted
through one fence the day before looking for it.
Wadsworth, TX
. . .
"When they made me, they threw the mold away."
- Charles Hargrove on himself.
Charlie talked, laughed, joked, insulted,
chased women around, drank, smoked, told stories,
and interacted with every person that came into the store.
He then went on to give me a place to camp
for the evening, a five count, a flashlight, food, and water.
He even went so far as to introduce me to a couple of his neighbors.

Wadsworth, TX
. . .
"It was real important to us that she knew both languages."
- Nate Glenn, holding daughter Jasmine,
on his and his wife's desire to have their child
speak both English and Turkish.
During the family's last trip to Turkey,
Nate observed that Jasmine, age two,
understood which language was expected of her.
Bay City, TX
. . .
"I take that corner a little bit slower now."
- Robin Short on a particular stretch of road
between her home and her workplace.
Several months ago, Robin took a curve
on her motorcycle, leaning into it at fast speed,
and missed a large pothole in the road.
She did $5000 worth of damage to a $7000 bike.
The motorcycle pictured is a brand new replacement
with a little extra work done by Robin herself.
Old Ocean, TX
. . .
"When they discharged me in Oregon and
asked me where I wanted to go,
I said,
'Aw, hells. I gotta go back to Texas!'"

- WWII Veteran and Pearl Harbor survivor William Eckel
on getting out of the service. Currently a resident of East Texas,
Eckel worked his entire professional life in South Texas.
When I found him,
he and his family
were vacationing on the coast.

Surfside Beach, TX
. . .

"We met sophomore year, and we've been friends ever since."
- James Baskin, shown right, with E.J. Eckel
after relating a story about a kid in math class
who was throwing a pencil at different students in the room.
As the story goes, E.J. grabbed the pencil,
broke it in half, and gave half of it to James.
They then simultaneously threw the halves
back at the troublemaker, who cried foul.
The incident spawned their forty-year friendship.
Surfside Beach, TX
. . .
"We had enough washers and dryers in our yard
we could have started a landromat."
- Dennis Nichols on the state of his family's home
after Hurricane Ike. The entire bottom half of his home
got washed away, including his own washer and drier,
which were nowhere to be found.
Jamaica Beach, TX
. . .

Friday, September 18, 2009

Days Nine through Twenty-two

It's that time again for a brief summary of my wanderings. For first-timers, it's where I reached, followed by how many miles I estimated I walked.

Day 9: A zero day in Port Lavaca
Day 10: Just beyond Point Comfort on 35, about 5 miles
Day 11: Fuzzy's Shell Station, about 5 miles
Day 12: Palacios, 12 miles (dipping into the town added a little)
Days 13 - 19: Zero week in Corpus
Day 20: Followed roads along the bay before 521, about 9 miles
Day 21: Wadsworth, about 20 miles
Day 22: Bay City, about 10 miles

Due to some tendonitis, I took a day off in Port Lavaca, then a week off in Corpus. I tried to slow down before and after these breaks. I broke the rule on Day 21 so I could get some water in Wadsworth, but as far as I can tell, the discomfort isn't going away. The major pains of Days 7 and 8 are gone, which is good, but there is a lingering tenderness. I'm basically trying to walk it off.

Here are some thoughts from the past couple of weeks:

*I am struck by the kindness extended to me by the Lee family [of Port Lavaca]. I turned from stranger to guest in a few casual moments. I was hoping - you might even say praying - for someone to approach me and talk to me.

It is difficult for a dirty person, especially a wanderer-type, to meet a new person and have a normal interaction. And this pattern of brief or no interaction wears you down. I am often buoyed by texting and conversations with friends and my family. Without that contact and the contact with families like the Lees, I would surely be having a more difficult journey.

*Just had an hour-long conversation with Robert Peterson, a local rancher. The drought is making it hard on his business, but he has quite a bit of land to sustain the blow. However the rotation of the cattle grazing is finally catching up to him. A little rain goes a long way, he tells me. He figures out who I am and asks some questions. Then he teases his friend Walter about hiking with me.

There's not a lot going on out here between Port Lavaca and Palacios, and these men use Fuzzy's One Stop (aka Fuzzy's Fun Stop) as a reason to get out, shoot the bull, and beat the heat. I find myself doing the same thing.

*I got so rained on today. The storm was huge. I'm lucky I broke camp when I did. Another thirty minutes, and I would've been soaked. So much for the drought. I was starting to enjoy the heat, too.

*It was such a hard decision to come back to Corpus. I guess it ruins the image of a guy alone, roughing it. Yep, I called my mommy and daddy to bail me out. But there you go; I did it.

I want a new foot or at least a solution to this discomfort. Until then, I'll have to accept that this is not one person's effort. The trip is already the synthesis of many efforts. And that's a big deal to be able to say that.

*This is the first day I've been really scared. I've gotten spooked by animals in the last few weeks, but this is different. Locals have warned me about these little offshoots of Houston, calling people "crazy" and saying that they will mess with me if they think I have money. And by mess, the implication is by using weapons. I'm completely shaken, though calming down a bit, and am planning on rushing through these next parts. I stated a while back [to a friend] that I wasn't afraid of death. Well, you know what? It turns out I am. I am not zen about this.

. . . . . . . . .

No pictures this time. I'm at the Bay City Library, and uploading photos is restricted on these computers.

I have calmed down substantially from the last entry above. I will be traveling along a major highway which gets a ton of traffic for the next few days. This road will take me all the way into Galveston, so please do not worry. I will be on high alert for the next few days and am taking all necessary precautions to have a safe trip.

Also, I am twittering about my trek at You can get flash updates here, as well as funny and interesting quotes and observations.

Until next time...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Victoria Advocate, New Shoes and Rested Feet, and Back to Palacios

I have now been in Corpus Christi for a week. My foot is not perfect, but if I wait for perfection, I could be waiting for quite a long time.

During these past few days, the Victoria Advocate published an interview and my first article in their paper. Check it out the interview below:

And a quick note about the flip-flops: I was just wearing them to get out of my actual walking shoes. Flip-flops make wonderful camp shoes and are especially useful if I have to wake up in the middle of the night (to make water, for example) and have to make a quick break. The longest distance I have ever walked in flip-flops was 24 miles, and it crippled me at the time. This was one of the most painful walking experiences of my life, and I don't intend to repeat it.

That said, my left foot feels a lot better, and I can't wait to try out my new Nikes. I got a pair of Vomero 3's which have fantastic cushioning. In them, I feel like I'm walking on clouds. I hope it feels the same out on the road.

I've rested, eaten some great Mexican food, baked bread for my folks, reorganized my pack, and I am finally ready to hit the road. The break has been good but unusually long, and I'm excited to return to Palacios.

Stay tuned for more pictures and tales.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Short Way Home

So I hurt my foot a few days ago. Tendonitis. Repetitive motion, repetitive impact. It occurred in my left foot around Day Six to Seven. I took a day off, tried to go slowly afterwards, and it didn't let up. Even now, I feel something when I clench my foot like a fist.

I took a drastic step which I really didn't want to: I came home. My parents were offering to pick me up, give me a little buffer of recovery, and then let me hit the trail again. I hemmed and hawed, but eventually decided it was the best option.

It kind of blows apart the notion of one guy against the elements, the miles, etc., and somehow making it out just fine. I liked thinking of that, but the reality is that people have helped me every step of this hike thus far. There has not been a single day in which I wasn't helped by someone in some way, like offering me a ride, giving me permission to camp somewhere, and giving me water and food to name a few. I am not alone and have been enjoying the benefits of generous and unexpected aid, and as such, I decided to take my parents up on their offer to help.

I made it to Palacios, TX. It's just over 100 miles from Corpus Christi going straight. Of course, I dipped down into the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, as well as visiting Seadrift, TX for an evening. I probably added another 30 miles or so in my detours and side trips. Even so, I am still surprised that the hiking is as difficult as it's turning out to be. The road is brutal.

I was struck by an odd sensation while coming home. We passed several of my stretches in the car going back to Corpus. Despite having walked a single time through these places, I felt an ownership of the land we crossed and a feeling of disbelief that the terrain could be traversed so quickly. "Hey, I slept there," I told my parents, tapping the window. My parents turned to look, but in a second, we were already far down the road, away from that patch of ground, from the mosquitoes, from the memory of my meal of peanut butter and raisins. And it happened nearly the entire trip home, a movie being watched and rewound at the same time.

My foot is doing better. Lots of icing, elevation, relaxation, Ibuprofen. I also invested in some new shoes and am reorganizing my backpack. I will be back on the trail in a couple of days at the exact point I left off. While coming home doesn't fit into the vision that I had hoped for, having a healthy foot and good overall trip are two things I refuse to compromise on.

Until next time, hike on!

Signs of Texas: Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

While traveling northwest along Hwy 35, I stumbled upon these billboards advertising the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. The integration of knowledge about the wildlife at the refuge with a regular school curriculum is a wonderful and necessary step toward a more complete education. I am taking an entire post to show you these drawings by the students of the area school districts because I think it's that important. Congratulations to the students whose work is shown and to the Aransas NWR for giving them and their classmates an opportunity to learn.
Hwy 35, Aransas County, TX
Hwy 35, Aransas County, TX
Hwy 35, Aransas County, TX
Hwy 35, Aransas County, TX

Signs of Texas

Men's and Women's Bathroom Signs, Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
Aransas County, TX
Indian Point Pier Turnoff
Portland, TX
Picnic Rest Stop
Hwy 35, Aransas County, TX
Austwell City Limits
(notice the large warehouse)
Austwell, TX
Along Hwy 35
Point Comfort, TX

Fuzzy's One Stop
(best burgers in South Texas)
Hwy 35 near Palacios, TX
U.S. Youth Conservation Corps 1976 Group
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge
Aransas County, TX
Gorilla in the Midst
(not exactly a sign;
perhaps more a sign of the times)
Port Lavaca, TX

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Faces of Texas: Aransas National Wildlife Refuge

"Refuge, not park. The reason I correct you
is because parks are for people.
Refuges are for wildlife."

- Felipe Prieto, wildlife biologist
and Assistant Manager of the ANWR,
correcting my casual use of 'park'
to describe his workplace.
He says it happens all the time.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Aransas County
"Children are more open to their surroundings,
connecting to the small things."

- Tonya Nix, Environmental Education Specialist
at the ANWR, on the difference between
educating children and adults.
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Aransas County

"You meet people from every walk of life
from all over the world."

- Vicky Bradshaw, an onsite volunteer,
on her experiences volunteering for various state
and national parks and refuges.
In addition to Texas, Vicky has been to
Hawaii and Alaska as a volunteer,
often living out of her RV.
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Aransas County

Faces of Texas

"It's relaxing. That's the important thing."
- Dick Green on not catching anything.
(To be fair, he had just started.)
Fulton, TX
. . .

"I set the record in 1976. Of course,
it's been broken many times since then."
- Butch Hodges on his performance
in the Texas Water Safari,
a month-long, muscle-powered water contest
from San Marcos, TX to Seadrift, TX,
billed as the 'World's Toughest Boat Race.'
Seadrift, TX

. . .

"Bless him on his journey,
and keep him out of harm's way.
In Jesus' name we pray. Amen."
- Betsy Lee in a group prayer
for my protection on the hike
(Betsy is on the far left,
followed by Sonya, John, Ben,
Sophie, Charles, Brayson,
Madeline, Elijah, and Mary).
The Lee family graciously hosted me
for two days.
Port Lavaca, TX
. . .
"The general economy is soft, but right here,
we're doing real good."
- Jerry Lawrence on the state of his business
'Fuzzy's One Stop,'
casually redubbed 'Fuzzy's Fun Stop.'
The grill and cook, not pictured,
made a superb burger
that satisfied this hungry hiker.
Hwy 35, near Palacios, TX
. . .

"Five dollars a day."
- Robert Peterson, pictured far right, of his 1950 paycheck
on Moody Ranch, while chatting with local friends at Fuzzy's
(Walter T. Krause, retired farmer and rancher on left, and
A.B. Massoletti, retired ALCOA employee in middle).
This statement was followed by a wide grin.
Hwy 35, near Palacios, TX

Books on the Texas Perimeter

For those of you who have already seen me in your area of the state, you may have noticed me walking with an open book in my hands. It has long been a habit of mine to read and walk at the same time, and I have read a number of books this way. The Texas highway system seemed a good place to continue the tradition.

Now in order to really be with me, you have to imagine a long Texas road, the moist heat filling the space around you, mosquitoes going crazy on your legs and arms and face, perhaps a bit of wind and rain for kicks. The drivers whiz by as drivers do, and you’re walking along with a book, occasionally using it to bat the bloodsuckers off your shiny, sweaty skin. It was just like this that I read a couple of books during the first two weeks of my hike.

The first was Stories I Want to Tell You… by my mom Esther Bonilla Read. She compiled several dozen articles she had written for our local Corpus Christi paper over the years, added a few dozen more, and threw the whole thing together (and as the South Texas Hispanics like to say, she “threw herself” as well). The stories were primarily reminiscences of her childhood and stories told to her by her mother, my grandmother. She made four copies of the book and gave one to each of her children as a Christmas present in 1994.

I remember one particular aspect of this present. In the summer of 1994, my mom asked me to draw a picture of a Model-T. There is something about commissioned art that I don’t like, and I postponed doing her the favor. She was resolute. She asked about it all the time and eventually demanded a product (I suppose my payment was not having to pay rent.). The result can be seen on the cover of the book.

I was seventeen at the time. I don’t remember what else I got that Christmas, but I can picture myself putting on some new clothes, playing with anything game-related, and leaving the book near the spot I had unwrapped it. I honestly can’t recall receiving my own personal copy of the book, but I know I didn’t read it. I know I didn’t read it because my mom reminded me for years that I was the only one who didn’t read it.

Well, look who’s home for chicken pot pie. I finally read the book and am happy to report that I finally have my mom’s entire repertoire of stories in one handy dandy little spot. Any time she starts to tell a story now, I can beat her to the punch by flipping to the appropriate chapter. Reading Stories I Want to Tell You… was like stumbling upon Harry Houdini’s personal diary of exposed tricks.

That said, there were some very sweet tales. My favorite detail is how my grandfather first met my grandmother wearing two different shoes, one light one and one dark one. He asked her to dance amidst the general snickering of young girls, and she accepted. It is simple, true, and beautiful. You just can’t invent a story like that.

The second book I read was Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson. Mr. Larson chronicled the Galveston hurricane of September 8th, 1900. He weaves the story of two brothers positioned within the U.S. Weather Bureau’s Galveston station who were among the few professional weathermen to witness the storm so close. For good measure, Mr. Larson also includes a few other perspectives to add color to the tragedy.

This was a good book, well written, and gripping at moments. The back story about the uphill battle of the U.S. Weather Bureau to gain prominence and importance was fascinating and telling. Mr. Larson did a wonderful job to make the tale more about the people, the politics, and the random mishmash of errors and egos that led up to and through an avoidable disaster.

I would ask Mr. Larson to tone down the use of the single sentence paragraph. It was a bit much, the written equivalent of DUN-DUN-DUN! Toward the end of the book, the use of this technique became almost comic.

(For example:

“Spencer and Lord died instantly. Three others died with them – Kellner, Dreckschmidt, and young Dailey. Five other men were badly hurt. Ritter dispatched a waiter to find a doctor.

The waiter drowned.”)

Both books were enjoyable and good for the long walk I have undertaken. I will undertake to read many more along the way, so stay tuned.

Until next time, walker-readers…

Friday, September 4, 2009

Days One through Eight

Boat in Field, Calhoun County, Day Seven

Every trip can be summed up. What you saw, where you went, how long you stayed. These details serve their purpose and help give a general and vague sense of a trip. They generally do not go beyond the surface and yet are necessary to the overall understanding of a journey.

Below you will find my mileage and where I parked myself for the first week or so. Have fun!

Day One: one mile shy of Ingleside, about 15 miles
Day Two: Fulton, about 20 miles
Day Three: Goose Island State Park, about 7 miles
Day Four: six miles shy of Austwell, about 19 miles
Day Five: just north of Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, about 12 miles (some of this was repeat mileage as I went into the refuge and made a day of it, adding perhaps 10 to 12 miles more)
Day Six: Tivoli, 19 miles
Day Seven: Seadrift, 17 miles
Day Eight: Port Lavaca, about 18 miles

These facts give you a overview of what I went through, but my thoughts and random pictures behind the events of the day are much more interesting than the miles. Here are a few of my journal entries:

*In my first mile, a man approached me and asked about my hat. I answered his questions but my first reaction was to pull away. I told him about where the store was, and he said, “I’m gonna get me one of them hats.” Then he went about his way.

I was shocked that in my first mile of a journey intended to unite the state my first reaction to a stranger was distrust. I knew then that this hike would be about more profound things than footsteps and interviews and history. I’ll be attempting to relearn who I am and how I see people.

Easter Island Copycat, Seadrift, Calhoun County, Day Seven

*What an amazing difference a little decision makes. When I saw the egg sign, I almost passed it up, as I had no way to cook them. But I went in and asked about buying them already boiled. The owners accepted.

I was greeted with some apprehension by Felipe and his son, but before long, I was chatting Felipe up. He is a wildlife biologist and assistant manager of the Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. He and his family live on twenty mostly undevelopped acres just south of Rockport. Felipe has worked for the ANWR for close to twenty years and doesn’t see himself or his family moving. He is proud of the family he has helped make and of the decisions he’s made in support of them. We also talked about the refuge, the year-long drought, and the give-and-take of the last few hundred years in regards to the land. Felipe is calm about the current difficult cycle and knows that God and the land have handled far worse.

My talk with Felipe and his wife really bolstered my spirits. Maybe this hike will live up to my expectations after all.

*I’ve had many moments of uncertainty already. Thoughts of “What am I doing?” and “Why am I doing this?” have entered my mind more or less since I left my childhood home. However, I stopped at a picnic table rest stop today, had a two-hour break there, and received a calm moment while lying down across the cement seating. “Just do it, and everything will be ok.” It was a feeling, an inner voice, and I felt better for the rest of the day.
The Parting of the Rain Clouds, Refugio County, Day Four

*I have now had several run-ins with the police. One stopped me the first day, and another stopped me as I was leaving Tivoli. These were casual Q&A sessions instigated purely from the look of me.

Yesterday, as I was arriving in Seadrift, the chief of police called me over and asked if I was hitchhiking. I told him no. He called the dispatcher, my ID in his hand, and said, “We’ve got a hitchhiker here, Montana ID number…”

Yet another policeman from the sheriff’s department of Refugio County kept circling the town of Austwell while I walked around. I must have seen him go by six times. I wasn’t breaking any laws, just walking around (I got lost, actually, in a town the size of my old high school), but I must have spooked some of the residents.

I have opted for this life and all its associations. I have no choice but to go with it.

*I’m worried about my body, in particular my feet. The pavement is killing me. My toes on my left foot are stressed and no amount of massage is making the pain go away (note: I mean during the hike; after hiking, the pain goes away within an hour or so). There are other pains as well, but the toes are the most serious. I’m taking the day off tomorrow and giving the hiking a rest.
Two Crosses, Refugio County, Day Four

A big thank you to my parents and the Nattingers for a wonderful sendoff on the first day, and a special thanks to Darren for walking the first part with me. These positive actions stack up against the day-to-day difficulties and will really help me see this project to its conclusion.
Sunrise on San Antonio Bay, Refugio County, Day Six