The last day! Last night, unfortunately, was not restful -- I dreamt my
I dreamt that I was in a car accident, a head-on collision. I knew that
it was too late to survive the second the car fenders touched. I felt
the seat belt tighten as I was thrown forward into the windshield. Then,
I woke shaking. For a long while, I lied there staring up at the stars,
waiting for my heartbeat to quiet down enough to go back to sleep. It
was not a good way to start the day. I know the dream comes from a fear
that I won’t finish my walk, or maybe it’s that I don’t
want to stop walking. I don’t know, but it was scary.
On my last walk, I passed a sign that read “OPEN RANGE.” I
hadn’t seen that one before. The sign wasn’t kidding. An environment
that I thought couldn’t get any more barren, did. Then, as I neared
California, I felt more and more like I was walking into a Steinbeck novel.
I saw my first cotton fields -- row upon row of brown and then green plants
with their white cotton ball “flowers.” I passed another new
sign -- “BLOWING DUST AREA.” Then came a row of willows, followed
by palm trees. Finally, I crossed the bridge over the Colorado River,
the bluest water I have ever seen, and completed my 22-mile day. 2,390
miles -- four months, three weeks, one day!
I might have been in shock; I almost expected some kind of bell to go
off or door to open. Instead, I came to a small sign tied to the chain
link fence at the other end of the bridge; it declared the Arizona/California
border. The Executive Director of the Needles Chamber of Commerce walked
out to meet me. A group of citizens waited for me on the other side with
a “Welcome” banner. I ran through the banner for one of the
many pictures they wanted to take. The Mayor then presented me with a
plaque -- my first plaque ever. It read:
CONGRATULATIONS & WELCOME TO CALIFORNIA
THE CITIZENS OF THE CITY OF NEEDLES
There wasn’t much ceremony after that. One of the council members,
Linda Starr, whisked me off to her home for an ordinary spaghetti dinner
for just the two of us, though she did make an excellent salad dressing.
She lives on Schultz Road, just off Spike Road. Needles’ claim to
fame is that the Peanuts cartoonist, Charles Schultz, lived here for a
few years as a child.
I must be in shock. At 1 AM I will get on a bus to Vegas to catch a plane
to Florida. I am in utter limbo, caught between two drastically different
lifestyles (and between diametrically opposed states of being -- earth/walking
I find it hard to believe that I don’t have to walk tomorrow, or
the next day for that matter! I don’t miss it yet, but I know I
will. I would like to say that the first days were the hardest, what with
the shock of daily instead of twice weekly hikes and the realization that
I had 3,000 miles stretching before me. I would like to say that it was
a hurdle I faced and successfully cleared, but that is not the case. The
fact is, this kind of physical and emotional strain is something you almost
never get used to. Those who can face the danger of never wanting to go
back to the “normal” way of life. I came very close to the
latter attitude. It’s a dangerous edge you walk on between not needing
anyone and needing everyone.
So, what have I learned? What of this adventure will I take with me for
the rest of my life’s journey? Well, I have learned that I can achieve
whatever goal I give myself – if I can walk across the country,
I can do anything. What is there to fear in a job interview compared to
this? The most difficult thing will probably be finding an occupation
that will keep me as interested as this journey. I want to get my story
out to the people who helped me along the way. I want to reconnect with
my family and friends. First, though, I’ll take a vacation.
Another thing I’ve learned is that there is a lot more to education
than can ever be learned in a classroom. I don’t regret my college
education – that path led to this one. I asked my mother once to
remind me why I’d gone to college – I was in the eleventh
hour of term paper madness and I couldn’t figure out what Robinson
Crusoe had to do with anything.
She said, “You didn’t go to college to learn about Robinson
Crusoe. You went to college to learn how to manage stress and to deal
with deadlines. That’s what people do in the real world, they deal
She was right. College is very good at teaching you how to get a paper
in on time. College is also good at teaching you how to learn things sitting
in desks. Otherwise, college is mostly just a four-year vacation from
life. Granted, this does not apply to all courses of study; if you want
to be a doctor, you should probably go to college. Colleges have access
to things like chemical laboratories and high-tech equipment; you can
teach yourself just about anything if you had the right resources. Professors
are resources. So are books. So are mountains. So is kindness, and good
will. Everything can teach you something if you let it.
What college should do is teach people how to teach themselves. The best
way to know you have learned something is if you can teach it to someone
else. I want to teach someone something every day for the rest of my life.
Most of all, though, I’ve learned that many of the things people
warn you about the “real world” are wrong. America is not
a treacherous place. You can trust people nowadays. A woman can be safe
If anyone asks me if I think that they should do what I have done, I’ll
tell them to ask themselves that question. Do you need to learn the things
I learned? Do you want to see the things I saw?
You won’t. You will see and learn a hundred things – all different
from what I experienced. If anything, you'll have one up on me because
you've already experienced one cross-country journey vicariously. However,
traveling is really about expanding your own horizons, be they just west
of town or on the other side of the world or on the page in front of you.
I could have taken pictures from every conceivable angle at the top of
Monarch Pass, but they wouldn’t have communicated the feeling of
accomplishment I felt climbing up there. Some things must be experienced
The thing I learned most from this walk was how to walk. The most important
thing I learned from this walk is how to keep going, day after day, and
to expect wonderful things from every moment. I only hope that the rest
of my life is filled with such lessons.