Hawkeye

As I rolled my converted golf cart into the combination country club, mobile home park and RV resort a rusty 1986 van gurgled past me.

I looked out of place, pushing my cart with my backpack and propane heater in the place where my golf clubs should’ve gone but he, the bedraggled, bearded Vietnam Vet  – his hat proclaimed that loudly – looked out of place, and time, and out of sorts, even at a passing glance.

This was a stranger: this was someone who tests the empathy of everyone he brushes by. 

I had wondered how people would respond to me as, unshaven and overburdened I passed through the small towns of America. But I knew how they would respond to him.

I officially checked in, received my illustrated map, made my way past the showers and bathrooms, the pool and laundromat– there for registered guests only – and to tent site 140 and saw that, fittingly, we were neighbors.

The drivers door was open, his full frail figure in view if dimly, but that I would come to realize was likely as far as he would ever venture out into the society of the RV park; the well heeled retirees with their second or third homes pulling trailers, many from  the northern states and Canada, with  fat motorcycles or small cars or dune buggies or boats.

Still he was not hesitant to speak to me, to guess by my appearance that I was on foot and, after I revealed my full plans, that his new neighbor was, he said, “crazier than me.”

We really weren’t that far apart.

$15 a night doesn’t get you the motorcycle or the boat but it does get you a home for the night: his the van, mine the tent.

He was a Vietnam Vet and though I missed the draft by two years my father, at 50, did a yearlong tour.

We were also both afloat, barely,  in the mud of social security. 

As we talked – though half of what he said was unintelligible to me and half of my responses went unheard by him (so many of his systems were clogged and crimped or rusted shut) – I think we both began to see each other.

He was obviously in poor health. No, that doesn’t come close to describing his condition. His ailments were epic. Odysseus may have taken on cyclops and sirens and the gods themselves but Hawkeye’s journey home was far more perilous. 

His voice was a scab. On his left temple there was a horrendous blemish, a tumor, a growth: it’s hard to describe it accurately because it was difficult to look directly upon. He kept it in the shadows.

His yellowed fingers gripped a cigarette that seemed to have the upper hand; it slowly, malevolently, was inhaling him.

But in other ways he was charming: he was kind to me, concerned for me. He laughed inoffensively at the situation I had entered voluntarily- my long walk – and offered me, if I heard him correctly, “a couple of eggs and coffee,” the next morning before I left.

Is it callous to say that at the prospect of sharing a meal with him I thought of Papillon, of Steve McQueen sharing the leper’s cigar?

But then, as I put up my tent, he disappeared into that dark van. It was only 3 in the afternoon but I didn’t hear a sound from him the rest  of the day or through the night, and when I climbed out of my tent early the next morning there were no eggs or coffee waiting.

I took advantage of the hour: the only guests stirring were vacationers with actual golf clubs walking to the first tee. In an otherwise empty bathroom I showered, shaved, changed clothes: something not expected of a cross country walker.

I came back to site 140 and there was still no sign of life from the van so, after taking down the tent and packing up most of my things I paused to dine on a half-eaten bag of “Antioxidant Mix:” almonds, sunflower seeds and dried cranberries.

My mouth trudged through that meal until, thankfully,  I was interrupted by a bicyclist: was her name Sylvia? She had seen me from across the way, from her recreational vehicle and had been moved by my meager breakfast.  As she finished her morning cycle she turned in to my site and announced that her husband had made one too many pancakes that morning, “would I like one?”

I’ve been on the road less than a month but I have learned at least one important lesson: whenever someone offers you something free, say yes!

A moment later she returned with – in one hand a plate with an LP of a pancake a half inch thick and covered with butter and – in the other, maple syrup and homemade jam.

Had she ever done the same for Hawkeye? Maybe.

When I finished I took the plate, jam and syrup and returned them and when I came back to my picnic table Hawkeye had reappeared, and was once again in the drivers seat, the door still closed.

I went to the check-in area, which as is the case in many of these parks, served also as a general store and gift shop, and bought 2 cups of coffee. I filled a third cup with dry creamer, packets of sugar and a spoon.

I walked up to his window, and knocked softly, gesturing with the coffee. I think perhaps that the window didnt work because he opened the door instead.

It was a perfunctory exchange at first: Would he like a cup of coffee? How did he take his coffee? What was that ungodly hole on the side of his face?

A spider bite, Hawkeye said – I had not asked him out loud but he knew, up close that question arose on it’s own, adding that the doctors at the veterans hospital wanted to biopsy it: “expected me to come back in a day or two for the results. Fuck that! I drove 3000 miles in the last month, to this the veterans hospital and that, to the Social Security office, back-and-forth. I’m not going back.”

Up close I could see the detail of the “spider bite.” It looked as if he had been branded with a silver dollar-sized iron, or as if a small red, fleshy donut had been affixed to his cheek and then nibbled at. I really can’t describe it. Up close I could also see that his right eye must have been pretty much useless: there was no eye to see, instead a collection of pea-sized yellow spheres filled the space and bulged from under his eyelid. Glaucoma? And then there was his belly: he looked to be carrying twins at least and at the bottom what I took to be a hernia protruded.

And yet he sought to advise me. He joined the chorus of those arguing against crossing the desert at this time of year. He asked me If I was carrying a gun: ”You should!” He offered me what he said was a 40-year old leather jacket that was stowed somewhere inside the van. He offered me a package of orange peanut butter crackers. I accepted the crackers.

There wasn’t much of a conversation: hints of a wild youth, a brief account of a wounded comrade, a wistful and then dismissive description of his Rhode Island hometown, Smithfield I thought I heard, and a brother or was it friend he had not seen  in years…

He left the park before me, heading to the Social Security office again, he said.

“Come on Maybelline,” he was speaking to his van, “start for me.”

Maybelline wheezed and coughed, then wheezed and coughed again, all the time Hawkeye slapping at the gas pedal with his foot and turning the key.

The second time around Maybelline wheezed and coughed and then convulsed into combustion not unlike, I thought to myself, Hawkeye likely rises in the morning.

Then proceeding me out of the park as he had proceeded me in Maybelline gurgled and groaned and lurched out of view.

I blinked. Had he been real? Was he a spectre sent to this comfortable combination marina, country club and RV park to chasten me, remind me of my mission?

‘Do you feel,’  I am supposed to ask residents of the communities I pass through, ‘that this is your hometown?’ I didn’t have to ask.

No, he was all too real, homeless, magnificent. Who among us could have withstood for a moment any one of the ailments  he endured daily? Did I mention the color of the skin on his legs?

We like to talk about bravery. ‘Thank you for your service,’ has become an almost involuntary reply to the sight of any member of the military. My father, 95 years old, hero of the “Hump”, navigator in the Berlin airlift, a Vietnam Vet as well: was he as brave as this veteran?

And what has Hawkeye received as a reward for his service, his bravery, his resilience: disdain, fear, detached doctors, indifferent bureaucrats, the comraderie of the disavowed.

I hear people say they believe most of the homeless are taking advantage of the system. I hear people say that it is more profitable to be on welfare than to work for a living. But look in to Hawkeyes’ eye, his one functioning eye and tell me we can’t do a better job of caring for our brothers and sisters?

We can do better.

In honor of

It was a good day, there was no doubt about it: dry, blue, warm but not hot, and the road I walked upon easy to follow and uncrowded.

And then it got better.

Terrie, a new friend, donated to the Task Force. Nancy, whose son had been homeless at one point, heard my story and spontaneously contributed to the cost of my stay at the KOA where I stopped for the night. 

After I set up my tent I sent Terrie a thank you note, urging her to get her friends to participate, noting that I was just $200 short of reaching $9000.

A moment later I received an email notification of a second donation, again from Terrie, putting me over the $9000 line.

I sent Terrie another thank you and then sought a place in the shade where I could do some work – and plug in -perhaps finish a blog posting I had started the previous night.

Suddenly Becky, the KOA receptionist, appeared with a man that could’ve been my brother. “You two have a lot in common,”she said.

Wait a moment, as I write this a unique bird call is sounding above my tent, part song , part whistle. But all I can see around me, above me, within the palm fronds and crowded together on the power lines are dark, angular birds.

 

 

There were many marvelous coincidences in our backgrounds, especially meeting here, in the California desert. But what was really remarkable was the passionate story Scott Kent told me, about his parents, about his life, about the quest I believe we are all on, the search for a meaningful existence.

Scott and I might have been brothers, long separated, remarkably though what was most mysterious and compelling was that two men in their 60s could meet in the desert and speak so openly and honestly about their disappointments and desires.

Scott is on a six-month camping trip in honor of his parents. All his life he heard his mother and father say that when they had the chance, at the first opportunity, they were going to go on a special, long, and leisurely cross-country adventure. But it was always not this year, always perhaps next year and that year, of course, never arrived.

Both of our parents were in the Air Force, he and I both service brats. Both of our mothers died of complications from surgery to remove brain tumors. But again what was remarkable was that we were both of on a quest that would not end after six months or year because it was a quest to live our lives with more urgency and passion: the quest of a lifetime.

It is I believe something that we all share: a desire for meaning and passion in our everyday lives. I am amazed at those that can achieve that simply by living every day with a special focus, no matter what, but I believe that for most of us a dramatic statement must be made, a stand must be taken, mainly for ourselves, mainly to convince that disbeliever we carry about with us that we can discard the trivial and embrace…’  well, to each his own.

I would be remiss if I did not note that Scott was especially generous to me. Before our first meeting was over he gifted me with, as he put it, a “spare“ propane heater. Something to take the chill out of the tent on those nights in the high desert, he said. Then the next morning, after I had gone to him with a card describing my walk and an invitation to visit me in Plymouth I returned to my tent to begin packing up and he was suddenly there, his hand extended, offering me a donation “in case you need to be inside sometime in the next few weeks.”

Did I say it was a good day? I need to confess now and be reminded to confess again and again that it has been a good life, that I have received far more that I have given. 

Amazing things happen when you go for a walk.

(For regular updates and daily pictures from my walk across America visit my Facebook site, Frank Mand.)

Home Sweet Home

The days I spent recuperating at my sisters in Simi Valley, California allowed me what I thought at first was a mistaken indulgence: I was able to reach out consistently to the people of Plymouth and engage myself in some of the activities going on without me.

A mistake perhaps because eventually I will not have the ability to communicate regularly with friends and family and associates at home: I need, I thought, to steal myself against that emotional pull and focus on the work ahead, the pragmatic lessons I need to put in place, the ruthlessness with which I must pursue each mile and trample it underfoot.

But then, at the last moment, as I sat on the train taking me back to the desert I was able to participate vicariously in a very special event in Plymouth, one that has special significance for me, not only for the times I participated in it while in Plymouth but for this walk as well.

The annual lighting of the town tree in Town Square – a long time Kiwanis event that has bloomed into a real iconic American community celebration –  centers around a tree that as long as I can remember was a donation from a family in Plymouth who, perhaps, thought it would be better for it to have short-lived fame in Town Square then to loom threateningly  over their own home for another winter.

This year‘s tree, according to many sources, was more shapely them recent donations, well-suited to the scope of town Square, and a nearly perfect fit for the 100+ oversized ornaments that the DPW would adorn it with.

Have you looked closely at the tree for the past four years? It is decorated with ornaments representing many, but far from all, of the towns community focused nonprofit organizations.

I call it CommuniTree ( Though some mistakenly believe I am trying to be politically correct in doing so) and it was conceived from the same inspirational moment as WalkingHome, the year-long sojourn I am undertaking at this moment.

Both are meant to highlight, promote, and celebrate the real foundation of our community: the individuals and the organizations without which our community would be a cold and uncaring place.

Imagine what Plymouth would be like without all of its youth sports organizations? Imagine what the town would be like without NAMI or without the ARC. Where would  this historic town be without the care, preservation and the foresight of organizations like the Antiquarian Society and Pilgrim Hall. Are you prepared to do without the arts,  represented by the PHIL or the Arts Guild?  Would you mind if the town was covered with sand pits and strip malls,? Thank nonprofits like Wildlands Trust, SEMPBA, and the Herring Pond Watershed  Association for fighting to maintain and preserve  our rare and wondrous ecosystem.

Those and many other organizations, big and small, are represented on CommuniTREE  

And so I took great pride in seeing this tree lit up once again, for the fourth year I believe, and seeing (in pictures sent to me) members of these organizations posing before their own  ornaments, before their tree, taking pride as they should in the accomplishments of the past year, the work that often goes unheralded, unseen and yet is the firm foundation of true community

So perhaps I will be distracted. Perhaps when I should be considering the level of water inside my backpack, where to make the next turn off old route 66 in the middle of the Mohave desert, or a hundred other moment by moment decisions  I will instead be taking a sentimental journey back to Plymouth and the wonderful people and organizations that I became acquainted with in the 10 years I worked for the Old Colony Memorial.

How can I eradicate thoughts of organizations and individuals that inspired me so, and to which I have dedicated this next year.

I cannot. I will not. I look hopefully to you to carry on and keep me informed of the events, activities and good works that instill in each of us the sense that Plymouth is our hometown.  It can’t get much better than that, 

There are over 100 ornaments on the CommuniTREE this year. Let’s work together and make sure that next year there are twice as many.

Gentlemen… re-start your engines

In the “Man Who Fell to Earth,” David Bowie plays an alien who comes to earth for water: he’s seen and heard – through random television signals picked up on his dry planet – images of an effervescent world where water is plentiful and life is unhindered by need.

But once on this planet the question immediately becomes, how to get back? Simple: become a billionaire and create your own space program.

I feel a little like that. I’ve driven west, dropped off my car, and now have only an array of coastal mountain ranges, the Mojave Desert, hundreds of miles of cactus and sagebrush, the plains of Texas, the Mississippi River, the flat fields and zig-zag (around massive farms) roads of the Midwest and three time zones to cross before my home planet is even in view.

Unlike David fortunately, noone is trying to impede me. On the contrary hundreds of people are rooting me on, encouraging me, sending me food and gift cards and hand warmers and sharing my journey.

Without that support I don’t think I would have the fortitude to overcome the obstacles before me. This last week I was held back by the sudden onset of a respiratory ailment that sapped my energy, clogged my lungs and led me to make what felt like an embarrassming admission to those following my progress – that I was going backwards, recuperating at my sisters home only 20 miles from my ocean starting point.

That admission however resulted in an immediate outpouring of support, good vibrations, and well wishes that I know helped me recover my health and resolve.

I leave again Friday, taking a train from
downtown Los Angeles to Needles, California- at the edge of the Mojave Desert, where – now equipped with a 3-wheel carriage – I will be better able to carry sufficient water and supplies for the long western crossing (California to Oklahoma).

I will need you more than ever: I will need you to monitor my progress, find me friends, put me up in the occasional hotel or hostel, send me food and supplies, and most importantly continue to remind me of the worthiness of my mission.

What is that Mission? Simply to find a sufficient supply of kindness to lift me up and over the mountains and plains and rivers and bring me back home (donating to my Homelessness charity here too if you can).

I know you can do it. I know with your help the days will fly by and I will be with my friends, family and loved ones in the blink of an eye.

I don’t have to build my own rocket. You are doing that for me.

The first voice you hear…

We last left off with Torrey Thomas doing my intake process at High Desert Homeless Services in Victorville, California.

I think I mentioned how many services they have integrated into their program. But in between answering a stream of phone calls and filling out my forms, Torrey and I also had a conversation about the difference between providing services and caring for human beings.

First and most important, I think we both agreed, was that the first voice you heard on the other end of the line was empathetic, caring, assuring.

When you are in a crisis situation, whatever that means – domestic violence, a need for shelter, food, mental health services – you should feel that you have reached a fellow human being, not a bureaucrat, technician or civil servant.

Tory has the demeanor of Buddha: easy going, serene, unhurried and empathetic. He is also very knowledgeable about the program he represents,its strengths and it’s limitations.

He is not necessarily the first voice you hear, but he is often the first one you meet with when you are about to make the decision to commit to their services. It is, I emphasize, a commitment. You agreed to abide by the rules and they agree to do everything they can to pull you up, out, forward.

Let’s give credit to those who find themselves in a deep hole and pull themselves out. That often takes more courage and strength and fortitude then the day-to-day challenges we face. Imagine starting from the point of no home, limited income, sharing a shower and the bathroom and the living room with 20 or 30 others: that in a society that esteems individuality. Yet many of these people will persevere and succeed and all the more so I believe, and I think Torrey agrees, if the service provider can manage to maintain the human touch, the human feel, simple human compassion.

That’s not as easy as it sounds either. On this walk I have encountered over and over again institutional indifference. I believe that when we have the excuse of a corporate big brother of any size that we often deferred to them when we are asked to make a personal ethical decision (WWCD: what would the corporation do).

I arrived in one community where the Catholic church was obviously an important and esteemed institution. It was late, a mass had just begun, so I waited patiently to speak to the priest or someone in a leadership role to simply ask to be able to put my tent somewhere on their extensive grounds. Around the church there were patches of lawn, at the back there was a Piazza, beyond their extensive parking lot was a beautiful grass covered ‘stations of the cross,’ each of the 13 stations illuminated by light throughout the night. Next-door was a large “pastoral center“ with over a dozen offices, all now empty for the night. After imploring the deacon for several minutes, asking just to be able to put up a tent, or sleep in an empty room for the night, so as not to upset the locals or invite the attention of the local police I was told that I could not be on their property but that there was an empty field that I might set my tent up on and, perhaps, not be disturbed.

Do I protest too much? Perhaps. But this was not the first or the last refusal of such a simple request. It’s  not as if I was unable to communicate my mission, my legitimacy or my earnestness.

After exploring the empty field, which I might have skied upon but not put a tent up within, I found a nice place on the lawn near the sixth station.

The description of the sixth station includes the appearance of Veronica: “…suddenly a woman comes out of the crowd. Her name is Veronica. You can see how she cares for you as she takes a cloth and begins to wipe the blood and sweat from your face. She can’t do much, but she offers what little help she can.”

We can all do something to improve our communities, take care of our most needy neighbors, help others. The littlest efforts are often the most endearing, the most helpful. Torrey – who I should note is also a ‘Christian Hip-Hop’ artist (Flight 417 is his band’s name) speaks to you, not at you. There is no guile to him, no weariness to his effort and consequently you feel that he cares.

We need a thousand more Torrey’s.

As I walked out of Victorville this morning  the only people I saw on foot were homeless people: huddled under canopies at abandoned stores, pushing old grocery carts laden with their belongings, gathered in small groups awaiting services at other institutions.

The ‘High Desert’ appears to have as many homeless as Joshua Trees: both have their arms outstretched to the sky.

No water, no home, no problem!

Hopefully this was one of the last lessons I will need to learn: always make sure you have plenty of water.

I would have enjoyed my night in the desert, or should I say my first night, if it were not for the hard ground, the cold night, the coyotes calling out to one another gossiping about me no doubt, the trucks that roared by  with hardly a break, and the realization that I was out or nearly so of water and food.

I’ll make one excuse: you don’t know how low your water is, that is the water stored in your backpack, until you are out. Or unless you remove the bladder from your backpack.

But I knew I was low. I had not filled it at all the previous day, and it would’ve probably been only 2/3 full at best when I went to bed the night before in Littlerock, California.

So this morning, Wednesday morning, after I had finished packing and put my backpack on and walked into the highway  I was nervous when I took that first draft from the tube that is fastened next to my left arm. 

Ah yes, that first sip pulled a cold, steady and short lived stream of water. The second sip gurgled. The third was only a whisper of water. At 7:15, with 15 miles to walk to the next watering hole I was out of water, and food, and a piece of my self confidence.

The distances in the west are hard for an easterner to understand. The roads seem to go on forever. Glimpses of green signs, of gas station signs, of something catching the light seen from a great distance appear to promise relief but… on this day, on these highways, were only long deferred disappointments and the lack of water began to take its toll on me.

The oasis? A McDonald’s about 5 miles out of town, about 10 miles down the road from my starting point.  I almost passed out struggling to figure out their new touch screen ordering: all I wanted was a large iced tea!

4 large ice teas later I followed up on research provided by my sweetheart and contacted High Desert Homeless Services.  The idea was to have a place to stay and a group to talk to about the challenges of serving the homeless population.

it was a 4-mile walk to the shelter but I made it- refreshed by a river of iced tea- and began the induction process. That process included many personal questions and a urine test. They don’t allow anyone in who has a detectable alcohol or drug level and they test you right there.

With all of the paperwork it took an hour before I could put my stuff away, get bedding and make it to dinner – at 5: all you can eat, and tonight it was beans, rice, enchiladas, chicken and meatloaf.. 

They serve three meals a day, have a daycare, a computer room where they work on work skills and resumes, transport clients to jobs or interviews, offer free clothes…

I was inducted by Torrey Thomas, a man whose size and easy going attitude hid, at first,  a fiery passion for social services, an intolerance for bureaucracy for its own sake…

TO BE CONTINUED (it’s check in time at the shelter)

 

 

20-miler!

I’m having trouble loading pictures but here’s one and hopefully a little later I’ll have several more plus the story of my day, not that you’re waiting with bated breath 🙂

I asked for uneventful and uneventful I got: from Littlerock, a small town along the aqueduct and in the shadow of what I believe to be the San Gabriel Mountains into San Bernardino County and an area Google identifies as Piñon Hills.

Now I am somewhat hidden just off Highway 18 in my tent trying to communicate to the outside world.

It’s just dusk now, 515, and what passes for a rush-hour on the road next to me is starting to happen. Trucks rule the world here. And I am not talking about pick up trucks. Semi trucks. The distances in the west are hard to fathom for an Easterner but this Part of the country has a wide and empty for the most part and so trucks are the main mode for transporting goods.

That brings to mind the fabulous truckstops they have here. I say fabulous because I’ve already been in the situation of needing to use one, for a shower. It’s amazing all the amenities they have.

So it will be hard to describe today because as I said to start, it was uneventful. I do give myself credit though for persevering, for simply putting 1 foot in front of the other though the roads seem to stretch to infinity rising and falling, long undulating almost waves of topography. I was surprised when I began to set up my tent and looked to see how far I’d come and realized it was over 21 miles. Never thought I could walk that far today, at least not now. At least not with a 40+ pound pack. At least not through the dry desert where your mouth immediately becomes parched after every drinks.

It is so dry here. The aqueduct not withstanding I don’t know how they support the number of people they do. I can’t imagine the cost or what should be the cost of water here. And so much of it goes to the agricultural industry.

So I have very little in the way to tell you of the interesting towns I passed through, very little in the way of scenery though it was all around me. You quickly become complacent about the desert. Perhaps you should not. I did see a street name that made me laugh out loud: Desert view. Who doesn’t have a desert view around here. It would be fascinating if it could be said that there was no deserve you. “No Desert view Street,” that would be something.

I took Humour where I could find it. Many of my pictures aren’t loading but I have one of me standing by the sign that says ‘speed monitored by airplane.’ Really? My speed? On average probably 1.5 mph. I have started to take a lot of breaks. It is the best way for me to be able to endure through the day. I can’t say I take 30 minutes, it’s probably more like 15 minutes. The video I made lying under a Joshua tree; I said I was going to take a nap. After making the video I got right up just and stride down the road again.

It’s dark already. 521. I’m going to edit this post it and then climb into my sleeping bag and warm up. The desert evening chill is already seeping into the tent. Thank you for all your support before, now, and I know continuing through the year. It is critical to me. I can’t do this without you.

So many lessons… but plenty of time!

I’m doing my best to make as many mistakes as possible early on so that when it really counts I’ll be all right.

Mistake number one, at least in terms of the last 24 hours: a flooded tent.

I knew the first day seemed to go too well. I walked 8 miles from Surfers Point, where the beautiful sunrise with surfers in the background allowed me to be philosophical about the upcoming challenges I would face, and ended up in the early afternoon at the Ventura Moose Lodge where I was immediately told I could stay out back that night in their parking lot.

Great!?

I left my pack at the Lodge and walked east an additional 2.6 miles to make sure I achieved my minimum 10 miles per day and then took a bus back.

I set up my tent, removed the few items I wanted to use that evening, and put my backpack inside to make sure it was not a tempting target.

Then I joined the Moose Lodge crowd watching the Tiger Woods/ golf competition and, when it was almost dark, went out to my tent and got inside my sleeping bag.

For a moment everything was perfect. Then letting my elbow rest to the side of my bag I felt an immediate cold sensation.

The tent was flooded. When I had laid the backpack down earlier that evening I had managed to put direct pressure on the valve connected to the water bladder and several ounces of precious water had emptied onto the floor of my tent.

It was dark by then but I had to take the tent completely apart, try to dry out every piece, and then get back in: I had no other option. I told myself that this was the best thing to happen to me, because if I had not known that was a possibility and it had happened in the middle of the desert on a very cold night it could’ve been a real disaster.

All things considered I slept fairly well that night, if fitfully, and at the first hint of light, around 5 AM, I immediately got up and took everything apart and got ready for the day’s hike.

I didn’t have a clear idea of where I would end up, somewhere north of Santa Paula I thought, and since that was an area with very few places to legally put up a tent (mainly orchards, berry farms and ranches) I contacted the Ventura County Police to put them on notice and asked for suggestions.

A very friendly sergeant, identified as the officer in charge of the region, had a very specific suggestion: 5 miles short of Fillmore was a wonderful park, he said, with barbecue pits and showers and camping. It was further than I wanted to walk that day but, the appeal of the shower was too much and I set out immediately.

The Sergeant had also suggested that I take Highway 126, and when I expressed concern about walking along a four or 5 lane State highway and whether it was illegal or not, he dismissed my fears and said it would be fine.

He was wrong, and wrong again when at the end of the long hike -the last mile straight uphill- I was told by the park superintendent that they did not allow camping at all.

The superintendent was incredulous, seeming to suggest that I was not telling the truth because “the police, Chips (California highway patrol), they all come up here and hang out,“ he said, “and they know the rules here.“

I politely requested – mainly by my look of exhaustion- that he bend the rules a bit but he would not budge, would not help me at all. I said I had walked 15 miles that day and would find it very difficult to walk another five in darkness and with no idea where I would sleep that night, but he could not be moved.

I shouldered my bag, sighed provocatively and walked stiffly down the hill to the highway and tried, I will admit, to hitchhike for a few minutes. Fillmore was 5 miles away on foot, but just a few minutes by car. Are you surprised that no one picked up this old scruffy looking man? I think not.

I started to walk again and had progressed approximately one or one and a half miles when a red car pulled over and the driver rolled down his window and asked me if I wanted a lift.

He was going as far as the Mojave desert, which would have taken up a large part of the more difficult phase of my walk. It was tempting, especially because at 60 miles an hour Fillmore was reached in just a few moments. But I told him I had to walk. I rationalize accepting his ride the few miles to Fillmore because I had to go additional miles out of my way, at the direction of the local police, to get to the camp that rejected me.

Fillmore is an interesting town, with beautiful vistas on both sides of the main street, an iconic Western old downtown, and a new vitality worth contemplating but I was only interested in finding a place to sleep, a place to put my tent.

It was already dark but I was soon sitting in a plaza next to a statue of Saint Francis of Asissi, waiting for Mass at the church of the same name to let out. I was going to try to convince the priest to let me set up my tent somewhere on their extensive grounds or, if they insisted, on the floor of one of their empty rooms in their adjacent ‘pastoral center.’

For the moment it seemed as if the day would end well.

Anyway, day two, lessons learned, more I was sure on the way.

 

Lift me up!

Put me on your back and lift up America (or at least your part of it).

Inspired by my own historic community – Plymouth, Massachusetts – I am walking across America alone.

I believe and hope to find what I call an “undervalue,” that beneath our tribes and our political parties and even our religious denominations there exist foundational values without which communities – and our nation – cannot survive.

To prove that point I believe Americans will step forward and pick me up and in a real sense carry me across America.

Without the support of people I have yet to meet I cannot carry enough water, enough food, or find my way through the forests and deserts and mazes of urban sprawl that now separate me from my hometown.

I have just finished designing my route across America, by tracing it in reverse (by car) to make sure that on the long walk home I can see and speak to as many people in small-town America as possible.

Already I have found that, perhaps not coincidentally, my path will take me through areas in the news lately, though for the wrong reasons. I passed through Pittsburgh and visited the Tree of Life Synagogue. My long-planned route begins in Ventura California, where rinow smoke still scents the air and in nearby Thousand Oaks a dozen innocents were gunned down just days ago.

I am, admittedly, a Pollyanna: someone who believes that in the end things will work out, that the good faith and empathy of Americans will win out. Yet I still want to have a conversation with Americans from coast to coast: Conversations that may produce no answers but allow neighbors to look one another in the eye and see each other’s humanity.

I have an endless supply of ideas on how to forge community but I admit that I will try anything, work with anyone on this effort.

I have joined a number of wonderful fraternal groups including the Moose, the Lions Club and others, have made connections with Rotarians and Masons, have Evangelical friends that I have asked for help as I pass through the aptly named ‘Bible Belt,’ all in order that I might have the opportunity to speak with people across the country.

I sincerely hope that school children too, perhaps an entire classroom in schools within a reasonable distance of my route, will get together to sponsor me, support me in some way, perhaps have me speak at their school

I don’t have solutions nor am I looking for them because I believe they already exist: but we need to refocus, to emphasize the good that we do instinctively and break free of the echo chambers we have been living in.

Officially my walk begins in the Pacific ocean in Ventura California on the day after Thanksgiving, this year.

The plan has always been to take a year to cross the country, walking approximately 10 miles a day and arriving back home, in Plymouth, Massachusetts, on Thanksgiving day 2019.

A year-long plan was intentional, as it will allow me to take a long, slow stroll through small-town America, but it is also fortuitous for those who wish to support me in any way as it will take months to cross the west half of the country, 6 months or more to move through the Midwest and I don’t expect to arrive home in New England until October and November next year.

So there’s plenty of time to think about it, to decide how you will support me and together, across America, lift mecup and bring me home.

My walk has always called been called “walking home” because it was inspired by my hometown, Plymouth Mass, and because i believe we can all make that journey home.

Please, I really need your help and by helping me I believe you can help, one community at a time, America.

I really can’t do it on my own.

Follow Frank on Facebook at “Frank Mand,” on his website walkinghome.us, or text or call him at 774–454–0856.

Want to connect with me ‘on the road?’

On my website click on the link for “Where’s Frank Now?” and see exactly where I am, then drive to that spot (bringing water, food, a place to stay?)

For National organizations interested in supporting WalkingHome my route is a diagonal across the country: connect the dots (and the towns)between: Ventura and Barstow, California, Flagstaff, Arizona, Gallup and Albuquerque, New Mexico, Amarillo, Texas, Tulsa, Oklahoma, Springfield, Missouri, Chester, Illinois, Bloomington, Indiana, Columbus, Ohio, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Corning and Albany, New York, and finally through Massachusetts to Plymouth (and all the towns in between.)

All funds raised go directly to the Plymouth Task Force to End Homelessness, a 501c3 charity.

Thanks, Frank Mand

Beginning

A 250-year-old tree in Savoy, Massachusetts. The dark, slick, steep streets of Ithaca, New York. A Texas hot lunch in Kane Pennsylvania. The flat, impersonal landscape of corporate Ohio. The broad fields and dense woods of southern Indiana. Popeye on the streets of Chester, Illinois. A thousand ways of worshipping god in rural Missouri. A moment in Kansas. A Moose Lodge in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A ballet of tractor-trailer trucks on an icy Texas Highway outside Amarillo. The moving presence of the people of the Tijeras Pueblo. The native pride and natural beauty of Gallup, New Mexico. The Cocochino Forest in Flagstaff, Arizona. California.

But what will I remember of those 14 days after a year of walking, step-by-step across America? Despite the beauty, the cultural surprises and the generosity of friends and strangers the sights and sounds of the past two weeks have already become a bittersweet memory.

I have walked across a flower-filled meadow to the base of a great mountain. Friday I begin the climb.


Show me what you love about your hometown…

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