You want to know the plan? The plan was to get to the west coast, dip my toes in the water, then head east.
Oh yes, and I wanted to talk to community leaders about what they did, or did not do, to allow community to grow, to thrive.
This homeless thing? That came later.
So close to noon on day 1, November 4, 2018, I climbed into my now graffiti-covered black Prius and drove down the hill and out of Plymouth Town square on to Main street, going left, north.
For the first night at least I was covered, had a place to stay, in tiny Savoy, Massachusetts, tucked into the northwest corner of the state in the Hoosac Mountains, with Salvy.
Salvy’s little house was like the last dry stone in the river bed before I’d have to jump for the shore, only the shore was – where? Surfer’s Point in Ventura, California where the walk would officially begin? Simi Valley where my sister lived, where I planned to drop off the Prius?
No matter where I hoped to land this was a leap of faith and Salvy’s home was the last dry ground, where I could plant my foot before the unknown.
You have to be brave enough to take that last step, to put yourself in a place where the only way to go is forward. After that though, after you make that big leap forward, you have to be lucky.
After Salvy there was only a thick line on a map of the US: a diagonal, the northeast to the southwest: ocean to ocean, and a million and one different ways to get lost or lose my way – not necessarily the same thing.
My plan was to drive the side roads, the byroads, the alternate routes: the logic there, if there was any, was that I couldn’t’ walk along the highways on the walk back so I needed to see where the lesser roads went.
I knew the way to Salvy’s and didn’t need to explore that route but I still opted for the slow way to Savoy, mainly route 2 through Concord then west, all the way, through Leominster – Johnny Appleseed’s town, north of the reservoir, a beautiful drive even in the late fall until I reached the Hoosacs and then, at a sharp bend in the road, the recently restored short cut to Savoy, up a steep hill, through a small farm, past a 350-year old tree and, after a smattering of abandoned trailers, tumble-down shacks and renovated cottages “if you see the beaver dam on your right you just missed me.”
During the years leading up to this day when I contemplated this adventure I found myself exhilarated at what I expected would be one of the most appealing aspects of this journey: its slowness. “Imagine,” I asked others to imagine, “how slow I will be going. Cars go a mile in a minute. Bicyclist travel that same mile in less than five. For me a mile, over 3,000 miles all told, will take 30 minutes!”
For this first half of the trip – the drive out to California – I would be driving, but still I soon found myself seeing things differently, slowing things down, noticing things I would otherwise have passed blindly: even on this first step toward Salvy’s just the willingness to step toward the unknown and the scales fell from my eyes.
What new things was I seeing? Little perhaps that was truly new but seeing with new eyes.
My heart too.
Not a new heart, but a heart exposed to the elements for the first time in years.
That had not happened overnight. That was a gradual unveiling, the removal of a scab.
Over the last few months I had come to realize that the commitment that I had made to this walk – a largely intellectual commitment – was in conflict with the direction of my heart.
For nearly a decade I had been falling in love.
Is that possible? When people speak of falling in love they generally refer to a short, terrifying plunge: a leap off a rooftop, a slip on the ice, a foot caught on the root of a tree and an involuntary somersault on to your chest knocking the wind from you, leaving you gasping for air.
I had been on a spacewalk: I had left the comfort and safety of my cabin in the sky and with her help had learned the name of the stars, then the constellations, then for the first time had spied the blue-green earth beneath me.
For ten years I had been falling.
As I drove west, I was still falling.
As I drove west, I was leaving her behind.
As I drove west to Salvy’s I realized that the little stone in the stream that I hoped would provide the firm footing for my final leap was small and wet and resting in wet sand.