Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dear Perimeter Hiker

There are a lot of questions out there about this endeavor, so I figured that I could make a sporadic blog column about it, a sort of Dear Abby for the trek. I'll do my best to answer a handful of questions each time at I'm a computer. New questions can then be added to the end of this column which will make up the content of future ones. Sound easy? Then let's jump right in.
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Dear Perimeter Hiker,

There are an awful lot of empty, long stretches around the state. Where do you sleep each night?

- Concerned about your Zs

Dear CAYZ,

I have thus far slept in a variety of places, many of which I could not have predicted. I have stayed in a hotel/motel room, been invited into people's homes, met up with other members of couchsurfing.com, stayed in a garage, camped in an RV park, and camped by the side of the road.

The most memorable of the above has got to be the Lee Family in Port Lavaca (picture in this post). I was at the library and asked about books for sale, but unfortunately they didn't have any. Shortly thereafter, a woman holding a baby approached me and offered to give me a book or two from her home which was two blocks away. I accepted and accompanied her home where she introduced me to her husband and children. We talked and talked, and they invited me to sleep on the couch or floor in one of their rooms. I ended up staying with the family for two nights.

Of course, CAYZ, you may be more interested in the grittier side of this endeavor, camping by the side of the road. I remember chatting with a man who biked across the USA and listening to him casually mention sleeping by the side of the road. It didn't seem like a big deal to him, maybe because he was covering so much ground.

Well, let me tell you something. Around mid to late afternoon everyday, I'm thinking about where I'm going to sleep. At this point, a group of trees is appraised not for their beauty but for their ability to shelter me. I try to judge where to sleep based upon the following criteria: 1) available cover (trees, hills, etc.), 2) proximity to a town or residence (who's nearby?), 3) number of cars on the road (who will see me?). For example, yesterday I walked about fifteen miles and was ready to stop. I hiked an additional two miles until I found a decent grove of trees (1), had just passed a residence and didn't see another one up the road (2), and saw no cars on the road (3).

This sort of covert camping does not excite me. On the contrary, it is an exhausting way to spend my energy. I do pay attention to signs, especially ones that say "No Trespassing" and "My dog's a good shot, and so am I." I was found once but have yet to be confronted. I am absolutely not looking forward to such a confrontation and will try my hardest to avoid one.
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Dear Perimeter Hiker,

Are you getting food drops or anything like that? Is there any way to mail you something?

- Mail on the Edge

Dear MOTE,

I am not getting food drops, but should you feel the urge to mail something to me, food or otherwise, the map below will show you more or less where I am and what post office is coming up:


Remember, I am traveling in a counterclockwise direction. I may have to hole up somewhere to avoid the brunt of winter, but I will do my best to adhere to this route.
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Dear Perimeter Hiker,

"I did not expect it to be so crushing, a defeat to be lived over and over in the presence of those who could make it go away." Was it easier on the A.T.?

- Brandon

Dear Brandon,

The Appalachian Trail was a million times easier than this. That's because there was a group of peers with whom you could socialize. Furthermore, because people were going at so many different speeds, there was a constant shifting of the social group on any given day, making it easier to meet many new people. In hindsight, my hardest moments on the Appalachian Trail were those with the least amount of social contact.

I'm around people at least once a day on this trek, but it's much different. We are not peers. We're not even just strangers. Being seen as a stranger would be better than this because a stranger has a blank slate to start off. I show up with a backpack and a day's worth of sweat (possibly more), and I start off at a major social disadvantage. I am distrusted and feared.

On the Appalachian Trail, most "civilians" don't interact with hikers, but it is a known phenomenon that thousands of people attempt the trail every year. Hikers are expected, their goal understood.

My goal is far from globally known. I'm still just a hitchhiker bum to glance at and look away.

I am lucky to have run across individuals who have treated me with open minds and hearts, people who have given me a modicum of respect ("Respect" in this case might amount to asking me what I'm doing instead of assuming it.). I have much to learn from these individuals.

Just this past weekend, my parents and aunt visited me and treated me to some wonderful meals, a movie, and a couple of nights in a nice hotel. While driving around the first evening, we passed a homeless man outside a closed Dairy Queen. Everybody chimed in: "Don't stop." and "Keep going." It was so strange to be on the other side of the car window.

I don't really blame anyone for their gut reactions. I find in myself many of the same thoughts. One thing is for sure: while a good meal fills the belly, a nice conversation feeds the soul.
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Until next we meet...


Aunt Esther said...

I love the last line. Good luck.

Brandon Champion said...

Dear Damp and Lonely,

I geek out on this stuff, so I really want to know what tech & navigation gear you have with you? What kind of phone, GPS, maps?

Stay dry!