Friday, January 29, 2010

Childress, Texas

Childress is white. White sky, white roads, white everything. What was walkable terrain yesterday is now likely a lot of ice, and that means finally using my Yak Traks. The Weather Channel has predicted flurries from the system moving through the region, and from the looks of the day, they're probably correct.

Night before last, I camped in this weather. I wanted to know what it was like to be in an ice storm. The day had been in the 60s and 70s, and when the weather's good, it's hard to feel anything but confident. While nothing much happened, this is obviously a dangerous attitude to have.

I rigged my tarp up between two bushes and staked the corners. This worked fine until the wind started blowing hard. After about an hour of trying to manage this from the inside of the tarp, I got up, didn't bother putting on pants, put my shoes on with no socks, and tackled the problem from the outside. Had it been raining, I wouldn't have been so careless, but the temperature was probably still 40s at this point and not unbearably cold. I made several new stakes and made sure there was something in every grommet. This, I felt, would do the job.

While I was working, I could feel the temperature dropping. Some people are naturals at knowing about what the temperature is, and while I've never been good at this, I've gotten a lot better on this trip. Five degrees can make a world of difference. I hurried my work, then got back in my sleeping bag and tarp before the rain started. I was dry and warm, and while I would remain such during the night and morning, things started to go very very wrong.

I got a few hours of sleep before a corner of my tarp whipping back and forth in the wind woke me up. I was a little frustrated. How many stakes would this job take? I wondered. As the night wore on, more and more stakes started coming out due to this strong wind. I would put them back in, albeit in a different spot where the ground wasn't loose, and weigh them down with my shoes. Fifteen minutes later, I'd have to repeat the process. I could've started a farm for all the tilling I'd done.

During all of this, not much of my stuff had gotten wet. I was still warm, dry, and in good spirits. My tarp structure had been reduced to junk, but I had not. When the sky turned from dark to white, I ate some ash bread I had made the night before and snacked on some trail mix. Whether you're home by the fire or in the middle of nowhere, life seems pretty good when you're eating homemade bread.

Then my body started churning. The party was over. I knew that sooner or later I would have to go out in the storm.

So I changed positions and procrastinated as long as I could. Trains went by in the background, likely carrying several nice bathroom facilities with them. The wind and rain continued like an inexhaustible orchestra. One last gurgle, and I got dressed.

From the outside, I could see what had happened. The freezing rain had coated everything with an ever-increasing layer of ice. The ice had weighed down the mesquite bushes I had tied my tarp to. This created slack in my tarp which the wind started blowing into like a kite. And that's why the stakes kept coming up.

My tarp was almost completely collapsed. While I had enjoyed a certain measure of warmth and dryness from the inside, I'm not sure how much longer it would have lasted. The side of my tarp had accumulated lots of water and hail, which was turning into a huge slab of solid ice, and after I had done my personal business, my rain gear was a little wet too. I decided to hoof it.

The rest you can guess. It was a long fifteen or sixteen miles to Childress, though I walked fast. My gloves and shoes, which both had claimed to be waterproof, were not. My hands which at one point had started to heat up, lost all their warmth and started to go numb. I took off the gloves, put my poles on my pack, and stuck my hands in my jacket. I could feel the water in my shoes, but because I was walking, my feet generated enough heat to be okay.

Perhaps the most important thing I did was an assessment every twenty minutes or so. I'd go through each of my body parts and say how cold or warm they were and whether this was an improvement or not from the previous assessment. Then I'd assess my spirits, my will to continue. While my levels of warmth fluctuated due to weather or gear, my overall attitude never faltered.

I made it to Childress. Half the city lacked power, so I continued until I found a motel with the lights on. When I took my pack off and looked at myself, I found ice all over me. When signing my name, I lacked the finger dexterity to make it look like my signature.

From all I've heard, I'd say it was an appropriate introduction to the Texas Panhandle.

Until next time...

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Quanah, Texas

I am in Quanah, Texas, by far the best-named town in Texas. Taking its named from the last great Comanche chief Quanah Parker (son of Cynthia Ann Parker, a frontier woman captured and taken in by the Comanches), Quanah pays tribute to its namesake via a local museum, memorial, and the local football team (as I was coming in to town a sign read "YOU'RE IN INDIAN TERRITORY").

(Short biographical note: Quanah Parker was a leader of the Comanches during the difficult transition years (as a warrior chief before 1875 and afterwards as well, when the Comanches surrendered and agreed to live on the reservations). He had the foresight to understand that the survival of their race depended on their cooperation with the whites.)

Today, I walked in to Quanah a stranger, but thanks to the Tribune Chief's newspaper manager Carol Whitmire and the Chamber of Commerce's Executive Secretary Bertha Woods, I will not be treated as such. After being tipped off by Mrs. Whitmire, Mrs. Woods met me at the library with an invitation to stay at the local Best Western and a meal out at a local establishment, both compliments of the city. In addition (what there's more?), I received a cap, a shirt, a postcard, and a paper describing the history of the town and personalities. Incredible!

A big thank you goes out to these women. I'm still in shock. I'll tour Quanah a bit more tomorrow, then head off into the sunset and the bad weather that is supposedly on its way. By then, I'll be thick on food and thin on adventure, so everything should balance out just fine.

Until next time...

In The News... and Some Silly Photos

My couchsurfing hosts in Wichita Falls Katrina and Christina deserve a standing ovation for how much they helped me out. It didn't stop at a couple of nights' sleep on a couch won on The Price Is Right. Oh no. Katrina went ahead and contacted her friend Katie who is a TV reporter for the local NBC affiliate in Wichita Falls. Click here for the news clip. Crazy!
Now I'm in Quanah, and the folks here deserve their own post for how hospitable they've been. So I'll keep that a temporary surprise and tide you over with some silly photos. Enjoy!
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I've always wanted to take a picture like this!
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My mom sent me some mittens which I picked up at the Quanah Post Office. By my mom's admission, the thumbs were "a little long." A little long? In each of these photos, I'm making a fist with each hand! My thumb barely even touches the thumb sleeve! I look different enough as it is; now they're going to pick me up for hitchhiking!
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Is it a red cactus? A pac-man ghost with a question?
What Rocky wears in the off-season?
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This is obscene, really. Even though nothing's exposed, if I wore these as is, I'd turn myself in. I give up! My mom made me do it! Forgive me Lord for I have sinned!
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A shot only Wayne and Garth could be proud of. One thing's for sure: you haven't really given a winter thumb's up until you've worn these babies.
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Hope you had a good laugh. Keep reading!
Until next time, my sillies...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Updated Route and Map

I am finally up to date on the map. My brother Charlie (whom I tweeted about when I was in Charlie, TX) has made it possible for me to label my path across Texas. There is no legend as of yet, but I've written one here to make things easier.

Yellow Man - Last logged camping spot and/or stopping point
Green Dot - Logged camping spot and/or stopping point
Blue Teardrop - Mail drops with addresses

You can click on any Man, Dot, or Teardrop for more information, with days and notes attached. In addition, double-clicking the hand cursor will enlarge the map.

Click here for the map.

From the blog, you can always find a link to this map on the lefthand column under "Progress Map & Mailings."

I think what my brother came up with is visually stunning, and I invite you to take a look.

I've stopped in Iowa Park for the day. Though I haven't covered much ground, I finished up the data entries for the map and have met a ton of nice people, one of whom invited me to spend the night (a library assistant named Ardis). Life is good.

Until next time, cartographers!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

In the News...

Wichita Falls has been good to me! I had an interview with a local newspaper reporter, Marissa Millender, and we must have talked for about an hour. She had almost 20 pages of notes by the end of it. She wrote about the interview that evening, and it made the front page yesterday! Here's the article in full. Don't be confused by what seems to be cut-off paragraphs; they're actually subheadings that got put into the same font as everything else.

Times Record-News article

To top it off, I just got interviewed by a TV reporter! A friend of one of my hosts contacted me this morning, and we just finished talking not an hour ago. She said it's going to air on the evening news.

I have to pack up and move out now. On to Caprock Canyons!

Until next time...

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Days One Hundred Twenty-Eight through One Hundred Forty-Five

My aunt and uncle dropped me off in the Ivanhoe area on January 2nd, 2010. It was cold then, and in the ensuing days, it got colder. For a while, I simply did not want to bother with taking out the camera, writing things down, and keeping the kind of notes that make a trek like this interesting. The cold is a beast all its own. Taking a photo or jotting down notes means stopping and losing heat, taking off my gloves and feeling the bite of the cold, and ultimately trying to regain whatever semblance of comfort I had just enjoyed.

I had to tough it out though. My body adjusted (somewhat), and I got really fast at getting the gloves on and off long enough to take a picture. Below you'll find my efforts.

Once again, I have included a brief summary of the miles I've done and the places I've visited, followed by photos from this time. The day comes first, then the place I reached, followed by an estimation of the miles covered (all miles are included whether they contributed to the overall goal or not; my feet don't know the difference). Journal entries are interspersed throughout. Please enjoy.

Day 128: Ravenna, about 6 miles
Day 129: FM 1753, about 6 miles
Day 130: Denison, about 15 miles
Day 131: Denison, about 4 miles (I tromped around town, then camped just south)
Day 132: Just past Sherman, about 11 miles
Day 133: Hwy 82, about 10 miles
Day 134: Just past Whitesboro, about 8 miles
Day 135: Just past Gainesville, about 14 miles
Day 136: Just beyond Muenster, about 15 miles
Day 137: Just past Saint Jo, about 9 miles
Day 138: Just beyond Nocona, about 12 miles
Day 139: FM 2332, about 20 miles
Day 140: FM 2332, about 12 miles
Day 141: Just outside Charlie, about 19 miles (I went to Charlie and backtracked a little that evening, repeating mileage)
Day 142: Henrietta, about 22 miles
Day 143: Hwy 82, about 17 miles (6 of these miles was a walk in Henrietta itself)
Day 144: Wichita Falls, about 1o miles
Day 145: A zero day in Wichita Falls

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Day 128: I'm alone again. Thirty-six hours ago I was in Baltimore with Annie watching Groundhog Day. Now I'm camping alone by the road in some quixotic quest to walk around Texas. The weather is colder now, 30s 40s, and will get colder before the season is through. It's hard to figure why I've swapped comfort for this.
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Dwight, Denison, Grayson County, Day 130
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Day 130: Freezing morning. Somewhere between the mid-20s to low 30s. I had to keep sticking my hands in my arm pits every few minutes just to have the dexterity to pack!
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Day 133: Been drinking water from puddles and streams and treating it with GSE (Grapefruit See Extract). So far so good. The puddle in front of me was partly frozen. Soon enough, these water holes will no longer be options.
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A Kindred Spirit, Whitesboro, Grayson County, Day 134
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Day 134: Library for four hours! Email & letter to Caprock, Facebook stuff, etc. The librarians were so nice. Asked if I was camping out in the cold. Small talk like this is not common. One shelver even smiled at me!
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Pump Jacks For Sale, Gainesville, Cooke County, Day 135
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. . .Muenster, Cooke County, Day 136
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. . .City Facilities, Nocona, Montague County, Day 138
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. . .Birds' Nests, Clay County, Day 139
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. . .Self-portrait, Clay County, Day 139
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. . .Tolerance, Clay County, Day 139
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Day 140: Nice night. (I'm referring to the night before.) Heard animals sounds all night, though I slept through much of it. Lots of coyotes. I spread hot coals around my sleeping area [just in case].
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Day 140: Camped in a field and set up tarp. As I was setting up, a truck and trailer stopped nearby. They stayed there several minutes, so I figured I'd introduce myself. The driver was a real cowboy! Young but confident, big hat, boots, blue jeans, spitting every so often. We talked for ten minutes or so, him encouraging me to make a fire and seek shelter. I confessed my fear that I was on someone's property, and he said, "Shoot, you ain't hurtin' nobody." It wasn't his property, rather his ex's, yet I sensed an ownership of the land nonetheless. He cautioned me about the snow and the winds that go 50 to 60 MPH in the panhandle, saying that he lived out that way. Also said that everybody knows one another from here to there, that it's a small world. He said that if I needed anything, he'd be down the road. Finally, we said good night, and I snuck into my tarp. It was a warm night.
. . .Maddox's Arrow, Clay County, Day 141
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. . .How Now Brown Cow?, Clay County, Day 141
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. . .Charlie, Texas, Clay County, Day 141
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Day 141: Hiked to Charlie for fun! Added about 18 miles to the trip.
. . .Frontier Jailhouse (circa 1890), Henrietta, Clay County, Day 142
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. . .Junior Livestock Show Auctioneer, Henrietta, Clay County, Day 142
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Day 142: Matt Kelton, the editor and part owner of the Clay County Leader, invited me to the Clay County Junior Livestock Show. I'm here now. Cowboys galore! The kids raise an animal for a few months to a year; then the animal gets judged and ultimately gets a premium for the children's efforts.
The emcee is amazing! I've never heard anything like this. It's like Max Headrome on uppers. A pie just went for $475! The man sounds like a hive of angry bees spewing invectives against multiples of twenty-five!
This is the place to be. Hundreds of people fill this space, part of the local high school. I see kids, teens, adults, elders. Lots of people have programs and are keeping track of the bids and buyers even though many are not participating. One woman told me she does it "just cuz." It interested her to see which animals fetched which prices.
. . .Junior Livestock Show Pig, Henrietta, Clay County, Day 142
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Support System, Wichita Falls, Wichita County, Day 144
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Day 144: Met up with Katrina and Christina, my couchsurfing hosts, in Wichita Falls. Met their friends, too. Everyone was so nice. And I slept on a couch won on the Price is Right!
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That is all for the moment. Until next time, folks...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Nocona, Texas

I strolled into Nocona, raised a few eyebrows with my large pack, and went straight for the post office. The building was one of the nicer post offices I've ever been in. The postal worker was nice, even mentioned the letter from Cheryl that she sent back (I was on my rather long break at the time). However, I did get two correspondences from Annie, and I am saving them to go with my evening meal. The worker was nice, asked a few questions, and smiled a lot. I left the post office feeling good.

I'm at the library now. I'd show some pics of town, but there's a big sign that reads "NOT ALLOWED: Flash Drives (Memory sticks, Zip drives), Ipods, MP3 Players, Cameras." Might as well say no technology from the 21st century and get it over with. Maybe it's not surprising, though, as I saw an old-fashioned outhouse in front of the Nocona City Hall.

Thanks for all the Facebook comments, as always. I really enjoy receiving all the notes, letters, and comments.

My next mail drop is the following:

S.Matt Read
219 W. 3rd St.
Quanah, TX 79252-9998

***EXPECTED ARRIVAL:____________***
(Add a guess as to when I might arrive. Give me lots of time.)

Stay tuned!

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Cold

It has been a long time since I've posted, but I wanted to let you know that I am alive. I wish I could say more.

I am in Whitesboro, and one bank sign said that it was 23 degrees Fahrenheit. Considering that the coldest it had been prior to leaving last November was around 40 degrees (and then, that was just one weather snap), this is a pretty drastic change for me. I expected it, obviously, but expecting it and getting it are two very different things.

This reminds me of a random tale. I once invited Erin Mahoney and Mesbah Motamed to punch me in the stomach. We were in the library of all places (and let the record show that this was years before Fight Club). Erin hit me, but the punch was slow-coming and my muscles clamped down before it landed. Mesbah on the other hand had a different take. He felt bad about punching me, talked about, wavered, all the while I was encouraging him to just do it. Then out of the blue, he smacked me, sending all the wiry force of his little Iranian frame straight through me. I started to crumble, and both he and Erin grabbed me and eased me to the floor. It didn't hurt so much as completely knock the air out of me. I couldn't believe how weak I felt for those moments. For me, this illustrates the above principle: expecting it and getting it are two very different things.

I don't have a picture to illustrate any of this unfortunately, but the sensations are never-ending. Each morning, I'm surprised to hear the birds chirping. What's there to chirp about? I've spent most of the last several nights twisting and turning, rarely comfortable, and surprised when the day starts again. I must be getting some sleep in there somewhere, but I really don't recall going down at all. The sunlight and sunrise are difficult to believe in, so hard were the moments without them.

I decide early if I want to stay in my sleeping bag and let the world heat up a few degrees (which means a several more uncomfortable hours until around 11am) or just get up and deal with the cold burning my toes and nose and fingers. What's worse is that I know this is mild in comparison to what's coming up 200 miles west of here. Maybe it's better actually. After all, I'm not there.

And that's all for the moment. I've applied for a volunteer position at Caprock Canyons State Park. More on that soon. And now it's time to hit the trail again, cold weather or more.

Until next time, cold weather watchers...

Friday, January 1, 2010

In the News & On the Road Again

I fractured my pinky toe in Texarkana. I didn't think it could slow me up by that much, but I was wrong. By the time I hit the third week of November, I realized I had to take some time off in order to pull the whole thing off.

I have been backpackless now for 42 full days. I've walked a bit, done toe exercises, taken it easy. I visited family and friends for three holidays in a row, and with the new year, I am stepping into a different and very heavy backpack.

I'm a little worried about my toe but more concerned with the arctic weather being pushed down into Texas. I have a lot of warm clothes and a nice Marmot down sleeping bag rated at -5 F. If it ever does get down that low, however, I might be squeezing out several one-word Tweetable Quotes.

In the meantime, here are a few articles that have been published in the Corpus Christi Caller-Times:

Galveston and the Bolivar Peninsula, A Year after Hurricane Ike

An Original Texas Survey Marker

Happy New Year 2010! I hope for everyone that it's a great year.

Until next time revellers...