Delaware, DC and the C&O

Days 4-15 on the American Discovery Trail

By the end of day three, I was anxious to get out and get walking again. It had been raining all day and I had the fortune of a dry place to stay. I had been eating and drinking and watching episodes of The Walking Dead. By all accounts, I had been spoiled rotten and it was only day three.  It’s a little hard to imagine now from the vantage of day 15 as I’m walking along limping on my first slack pack, but by the time the rain let up late in the evening on day three I was eager to get back onto the road.  I probably should’ve slept the rest of that night, that probably would’ve been the smart thing to do, but at 11:21 p.m. I put on my pack and walked back onto the dark roads.

I walked right down the middle of the street much of the night, dancing and filming my shadows. Floodwaters all but eliminated much of the shoulders anyway.  The moon was nearly full, the creatures of night chirping away in the darkness, and only the occasional late-night passerby, in a car that is. I had the Delaware countryside all to myself. By morning, I was nearing ten miles walked with fatigue starting to build up a little bit. I found a beach on the side of a creek running under a bridge and I decided to use that as a spot to rest for a couple hours. It was cold, temperatures getting down to the 30s, so I laid down my tent as a tarp, my foam pad on top of that, and wrapped my 20° sleeping quilt around me to take a nap.  A couple blinks later, I was startled awake by what I thought was the strobe light of a police officer, but instead proved to be the sunshine of morning. Two hours had passed by in a blink, I couldn’t believe it! Time to get walking again.

My day would unfold another 15 miles, with plenty of rest, aches, and pains. The wind would gust at times rather sharply as I wandered through the beautiful farmland of Delaware. The sun came out to show me warmth and make me thirsty. I snacked, I brushed my teeth, and I dealt with a past due insurance claim that was finally coming to fruition, a fortune as I most certainly need that money in order to finish this trip.  I had the additional luck on this day to run across another ADT hiker, three of us having accidentally started at nearly the same time a day apart on the beach in Delaware.  We shared a moment and a photograph, but this guy was walking way too fast for me, so I let him show me his dust trail. Our paths would cross some more in the coming days, but illness and eventually injury would later see him well ahead of me.

The biggest milestone and letdown of day four… The crossing into Maryland!  Obviously, I expected parades and fanfare, adornment and red carpet; after all, I had just walked an entire state (we won’t tell anybody it’s the smallest).  Instead, I was wandering down this forested dirt road… and that was it!  If it hadn’t been for the dashed line on my map, I would not have known I crossed at all.  No leaving “this state” and entering “that state” signs of any kind. I would set up camp for the night, as I had been, up against the treeline on the edge of a field a few miles outside of Denton, Maryland.

I’d wake the next morning to walk fast, write poetry, and take a long lunch break en route to another great walking day.  Slow days were coming! I of course would forget that it was Easter, which threw a kink in my resupply plan. I ran my food and water light for the sake of my back, expecting full well to enjoy a warm restaurant meal and opportunities to refill what I needed.  Oops! Even the vending machines were locked down. I could’ve found some water to pump if need be, but I was lucky enough to find a restaurant, though not open, willing to let me fill my water bottles for free. I could’ve knocked on a door too if need be, people being generally understanding of the crazy asshole walking across the country!

A few miles further down, yet unable to shake the aching fatigue, I found a nice little white gazebo in a park next to a pond and took a nap. Two hours later I woke, my energy fully restored. My evening became a brisk walk that fell just shy of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. I found a spot to set up my tent next to the bike trail, right behind a trail bench, the area filled with soft wood chips. I slept undisturbed until sunrise.  Then came the pouring down rain!

My bridge crossing wouldn’t exactly follow “best practices.”  There’s apparently a bus that goes across, but only Monday through Friday and it drops you off several miles past the end of the bridge.  It was Sunday.  There are of course taxi services, but they’re expensive and I like to eat. I’m walking on a budget, a hope, and a prayer. There is apparently a bridge authority service that if you call 24 hours in advance, you can get a ride for the cost of the toll, but it can be hard to plan your walk 24 hours in advance when you suddenly get really tired, dehydrated, and take a nap in a gazebo. Needless to say, it was Sunday, I hadn’t planned it out, but you can be sure I was going to get across.  Oh yeah, the pouring down rain!

This whole walk for me, from the beginning, has been about both independence and mutual aid, that is people helping themselves and helping each other, both critical to global healing and transformation. I figured I’d just get a lift. I had no intention though of sitting at the on-ramp for hours in the pouring down rain. I just walked onto the highway and towards the no pedestrian bridge. Shortly down the way, I walked past a couple security vehicles in the median. I walked on past.  A few paces later I saw the red and blue lights.  At first, they were going the other direction on the opposite side of the highway.  No worries, not for me.  Wrong! Two officers pulled over, one in front and one behind me. Gavin hopped out of the front vehicle and immediately asked me if he could call me a taxi.  I told him I was hoping for the kindness of a stranger to get a lift across. He smiled and said, “Yeah I can take you.”  I did mention the whole American Discovery Trail walking across the country thing. 

The other officer kindly informed me of Maryland state law about pedestrians on the bridge. I told her I appreciate that and I’m not trying to be unsafe, but I really need a kind human today.  One of the seemingly unspoken rules in my life has been, when I need help, nobody stops; when I don’t need help, everyone stops! This day was exactly that kind of day.  I get it and I’m not bitter, but for what it’s worth, I am the guy who stops, even and especially when you look dirty and broke down.  Don’t everyone follow my lead. We have to be safe and within our own comfort zones, but if we can try to extend those edges just a little now and again, we might make the discovery we were always wishing we would make, a cool human with a story to tell.

I enjoyed sauntering through a damp Annapolis, though by the end, not having a lot of great places to rest with a pack, I was finding my fatigue and my end a little too soon.  My first stealth camp turned out to be a bad idea, there was a security camera! No worries, I just moved on. I found an okay place, down a steep embankment off the road with enough tree cover to keep me out of sight through morning.  The coming days would get hard working my way into DC. There would be the flash floods, soaking me all the way through, then freezing temperatures, which were only actually freezing to a soaking wet asshole.  I would wander off course to find the nearest laundromat which was still way too many miles away.  

I sat in that laundromat feeling near hypothermic as I waited for my clothes to dry. I made the only choice I feel like I could reasonably make at the time.  I found the nearest hotel and I checked in for what would be two nights so I could sleep a full day.  I bought pizza, I bought pasta, I bought soda, and I took a couple warm baths to warm up and soak my aching legs. The guy checking me in at the front desk was thrilled to have the opportunity to check in his first “hiker” in the “entire seven years” he had worked at this particular hotel.  He said, “The other guys are probably rich and don’t stay at the red roof.”  I chuckled a bit, enjoying his enthusiasm about my presence; though I was exhausted, feverish, and a throat too sore to swallow my candy bars.

I walked out of the hotel two nights later, dry with a lighter pack. Water weight is no joke, especially when you can’t drink it.  I felt pretty decent for the first eight to ten miles, but by the time I got to 13 I was just all fucking done. My course on the other hand wasn’t.  The sun had turned to a cold wind and the night was looming in the outer DC metro.  I’m not skittish. I know the streets and I know the night. With or without a pack, people tend to either leave me alone or show me kindness. It’s the police I have to worry about, especially with a pack.  It’s the affluent neighborhoods I have to worry about, especially with the pack. Nevertheless, I was tired, my legs hurt, and I needed a break.  I limped into a park just affluent enough to worry me but with a very spacious porta potty on its outer perimeter fairly far from the street itself.

Naturally, I walked inside to get out of the wind. I stayed a while. The last couple hours of daylight weren’t a problem. Nobody walked by and nobody bugged me.  I was hoping to stay a bit longer though as I really needed a nap at the very least and I really didn’t need the chill of the cold wind.  Setting up my tent here was out of the question. I ate a little bit and did some stretching, then finally took out my sleeping bag to feel a bit warmer.  Ten minutes after darkness set in, the blue and red lights showed up.  They shined their beams for about five minutes, never entered, and drove off. The message was well enough clear, we’ll be back, you’ll be gone. I was.

That meant another six or more hours of walking through cold and dark with very few spots to easily sit down without risking more red and blue lights.  I could sometimes find a bus bench, though rarely since these were mostly affluent neighborhoods. Sometimes I would sit on the grass of a park, though just briefly.  Again, affluent, red and blue lights. I eventually wandered through a bus terminal and caught some rest, was also offered a dollar by a passerby in a nice car.  I told him, “No, I have a dollar.”  He said, “Are you sure?”  Thumbs up (me).  This guy hadn’t heard about inflation. A dollar weighs me down but buys me nothing.

A short way further down, I finally found a forested area to wander into and pitch my tent, just across from a wealthy enough golf course.  And no, I did not pitch my tent there.  Interestingly enough, when I woke the next morning, I discovered I had actually pitched my tent a stone’s throw from Park Police, maybe two dozen squad cars parked out front!  Me and PoPo have a history, we like to challenge each other, me as a social and political activist, they as PoPo.  It’s not all bad. I’m a complex person. Gavin was very nice and offered me a ride with a little encouragement (my encouragement of him towards offering the ride!). I’ve had other experiences too!  Historically and just in the last several days.

My saunter through the rest of DC the next day was like shuffling my feet, but I really enjoyed the slow walk, especially through Rock Creek Park as I chose not to wander through the monuments of our capitol.  Those who read my writing for more than a few minutes will know, I don’t hold reverence for symbols that don’t absolutely support the well-being of all people, “foreign and domestic.”  I’m rather stubborn on that point of departure.  I’m one of those highly educated assholes who identifies as an abolitionist and writes about the abolition of the institution of school in favor of liberating forms of education.  I also walk across continents to further my own education outside the walls of institutional predeterminance.  Though when people ask me out here why I’m walking, I don’t usually lead with that answer, but maybe I should.

I made it to the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath!  I found the first park bench, sat down and shared a crumbly pop tart with a local bird.  I wasn’t trying to share. The pop tart simply crumbled after being smashed in my pack and hit the ground. Mr. Bird helped me out.  I think we’re now lifelong friends.  I certainly wouldn’t make it to the first official hiker-biker campground that evening. My feet had been shuffling and sore all day. I found a patch of grass next to the path and called it a night, undisturbed.

The next day turned out to be a crowded one on the towpath, as it was Sunday and I was hiking through some of the more touristy sections. A few people were concerned about my slow pace. I assured them it was all good and normal, when hiking 6,800 miles continuously.  One nice lady spent a little bit of time talking with me as we walked about what exactly it is that I was doing.  She asked how she could follow me along my journey, and I shared with her my Instagram handle, The Forgotten Space.  She well understood that “the forgotten space” may not be a destination to be found but “a quest” to be pursued.  In fact, I talk about the forgotten space in different ways in my writing, a developing idea and praxis. My answer to the question is always changing, indeed searching. It’s always encouraging to encounter someone comfortable without an answer, the questioning almost entirely the point of education, much to the dismay of the curriculum writers in the United States and around the world, even more so to the wholesale assessors of standardized robotics, I mean learning, I mean…

A factory is, a factory does.

I’m enjoying the free campgrounds and I’m enjoying the dirt path, but when someone rides up on a bike and says, “We’ve been looking for you,” and it’s not the IRS, you say “yes” before the question is asked.  I’m definitely enjoying the slack pack, an opportunity to catch up on my writing while logging decent miles, though me and voice to text are fighting quite a bit right now! I strongly believe labor is life, though I value a degree of automation as well, but only and expressly when it is useful to my fucking needs and doesn’t add to the labor I wish or need to occasionally reduce in my life.

Tomorrow the pack will be back on and West Virginia calling my name, but not quite yet…

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