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You Are Amazing!


(T.C. Cannon--Kiowa-Caddo 1976)


My bladder woke me up at about 4:30 am—as is its custom, and as I glanced at my phone to see the time, there was a notification: “Elaine Fleming sent you a message ‘You two are amazing!’”

Back under the covers, I thought about that.

I think that SHE is amazing.

I’m just doing what comes fairly naturally to me—walking, running, traveling, camping.

It’s easy!

Elaine is helping to raise her grandchildren, capturing feral cats and either raising them, or finding homes, learning Ojibwemowin along with practicing many cultural traditions like ricing, beading, sewing regalia for her grandkids, AND still teaching at the Leech Lake Tribal and Community College at over 70 years of age.

I first met Elaine when we won for our creative nonfiction works at the Lake Superior Writers contest in 2000, and read our work in Duluth. That’s actually the only time I’ve met her in person, otherwise everything we know about one another’s lives comes from Facebook posts.

 

I feel passionate about the “mission” of our walk—harm reduction/overdose prevention—but I can also get really excited about sharing our experience as just regular people who, maybe naively, felt that we could walk 3700 miles diagonally across the United States, with not a whole lot of money, no real experience with  living in a little camper, and a half-baked idea about how we would share harm reduction information.

It's true! We are just regular people.

 

I was 68 years old when we started walking, relatively undertrained for the rigors of high daily mileage. Julie is an ex-smoker who was still recovering from lung cancer surgery and had done really zero training for the walk.

Yet, here we are… 2700 miles into it.

 

My point is this: if you just give in to reckless stupidity once in a while, you can accomplish things that others think are “amazing.”

 

Please… do this!

Make a plan, even a half-baked one, and take the leap. We only live once or twice.

What can go wrong? (lots, but what the hell….)

 

                                                                        ***

Jan. 13, 2024

Questa, NM

We are camped here, but still walking in CO, just 13 miles N of the state line.

We should’ve been in NM by now, but the cold head wind has nearly stopped us in our tracks. Julie only walked ONE mile today, as she can’t breath in these conditions (8000’ and cold headwind.)


Julie offers up a smile and a peace sign to every vehicle that passes by. I just give a semi-jaunty, somewhat casual wave myself, not wanting to look like a hippy, or vegan.

 I have mixed feelings about this little roadside connection. I mean, who knows who these people are?

They could be child molesters, wife-beaters, traffickers, or maybe they have a trunkful of fentanyl or Xylazine headed for the pueblo up the road.

But, in the end, I cast these fears aside and assume that each car contains fellow humans who take in rez dogs, treat filthy wanderers to a tamale lunch, or are driving home to Michigan or Baton Rouge to care of mom who is passing through the dark tunnel of dementia.

 

                                                                        ***

 

Walking across the continent is slow… sooooo slow.

And now, facing these incessant SW winds, it’s yet slower. I’m trudging along in 27 degree temps, at 8000’ of elevation, and it’s really all I can do to stay at a 18:00-20:00 minutes per mile pace. My face is cold, but my core is warm with the work.

I’m really fine. As much as I’d like to cover more miles today, this is what we’re doing…walking.

So, who really cares. There’s no deadline.

Sometimes I can’t help but think  back to when I could run 20 miles in under two hours in training, and under 1:50:00 during a marathon.

In today’s conditions, and at this preposterous age? That distance would take me over six hours!

 

Oh well, I still smile as I walk. This is what we chose.

Here I am, striding along a fairly quiet road under a blue sky, the wind burning my cheeks, my lungs sucking greedily at the thin air, until I see the camper up ahead about a mile. Only 18 minutes and I can sit down in the warm flow of the car’s heater and turn on the seat heater to soothe my aching and withered shanks.

Not a bad way to spend the day!

 

 

Jan. 14 Questa, NM

Made it 14 miles today.

A little less headwindy, 40 degrees and sunny, so a more pleasant walking day.

I even tried to trot a bit, the first time since The Hundred. But my right leg is still crippled up.

It got me thinking about aging runners who “run” so slowly that it’s really “walking with a running motion.” There is always one foot in contact with mother earth (the definition of walking by the way.)

I see them trudging along the roads back home, and I’ll exclaim to Julie, “Look at him! He thinks he’s running! Why doesn’t he just give up and admit he’s walking now?!”

After all, there’s no shame in being a walker. But try to tell that to a former marathoner.

 

  ***

 

Jan. 15th Questa, NM (still)

Today, I exhausted myself in the first 8 miles into a cold (32f) SW headwind, after Julie bailed out after  mile (can’t breath.) Then, miraculously, the road curved enough so that the wind was at our right sides. Too late for me, but Julie was able to do 5 more.

It was cool to start my leg at the beginning of the north slope of Ute Mountain, and end it at the south slope.

 

***


(So cool! Yes... we went.)


Jan. 22nd Taos, NM

Ugh… over a week without any scribbling.

We got to Taos, camping in the snow, immersed ourselves just a bit in the local arts scene.

We’d passed the D.H. Lawrence Ranch, and so arranged to pay a visit the following day. It was really cool!

There is a caretaker—Ricardo—who gave us the low-down (it’s kind of self-guided) on the buildings and history of Lawrence’s tenure here (a very short one.)

Admittedly, for both of us, the highlight was the Lawrence Pine, a Ponderosa pine outside of his writing cabin. A visiting Georgia O’Keefe painted the tree looking upward through the branches, during a visit to the ranch. We hugged and sniffed that old girl, and I thumbnailed a few globs of pitch from her sores, for future incense atop our woodstove.

We tried to score veggie tamales (lard in the masa,) a glimpse of some the art of John Du Puy (gallery closed) but did manage to hover around the mission on the west side of Taos that was photographed by Ansel Adams. Julie tried to replicate some of Adam’s B&W magic with her iPhone.

 


(This was our tour guide at the Lawrence Ranch. She led us everywhere)


(The Ponderosa that Lawrence wrote under, and O'Keefe painted.)


(Ricardo, the caretaker and historian of the ranch)


***


Feb. 2nd Escondida Lake Campground Socorro, NM

We're hunkered down in this quiet campground waiting out the wind. Yesterday we took our first day off in a while due to some 45 mph gusts, and the resultant dust clouds. But we've been making pretty good time, having put about 325 miles under our Hokas since returning to Colorado last month.

Now we are heading into some very lonely country. The largest town in the next month or so is Magdalena NM (pop. 808.)

That's fine, but we'd better stock up on spinach (there are plenty of pintos to be had.)

 

***

Taking inventory of our roadside world:

There are some things that stay the same, no matter where you are in America. Do the things people throw out of their windows represent who we are?

Not really; they only represent the kind of people who throw shit out of their windows.

  • little bottles of booze (Fireball is #1. Out west the little bottles are bigger--2 oz)

  • syringes (mostly used for illicit drugs, but occasionally for insulin)

  • clothing (lots of underwear...what's with that?!)

  • tens of thousands of vape cartridges

  • piss bottles (okay... we all have to pee while in car, but it's probably safer to pull over and pee in the ditch. Plus, it's really gross to whip it out the window for someone else to clean up. Looking at you, men.)

  • Bud Lite beer cans (yes, really... almost exclusively)

  • tooth flossing sticks

  • diapers (kids AND adults)

  • fast food garbage (McDonald's and KFC primarily)

And, other stuff...

  • bungees

  • various tools

  • large, black plastic "mystery bags," that we do NOT look inside of!)



(one of MANY configuarations of the vape device)



I was also very sad to encounter a coyote who had been hung, upside down, to a fence by his/her hind legs. This is a common sight in the west, where wild beings take a back seat to livestock. But, I've never seen this before, except in photos.

I removed the wire and laid her in the grass, with apologies for my species.


***


Book Notes:

Leslie Marmon Silko  “The Turquoise Ledge”

One night back in the latter half of the 20th C. I was motoring home from Duluth to my place outside of Two Harbors MN and remembered a friend’s suggestion that I go meet a guy who lived in the old Clover Valley high school—Rikku Silvola—that I would “have a lot in common with him.”

So, I swung into the deep snow of the school driveway where I could see one lonely kerosene lantern burning inside the window of a lower floor classroom.

I pounded on the outside door until I saw a flashlight swing wildly down the hallway toward the door. (Rikku had a pronounced limp, the result of falling off of a train he’d tried to hop while in college. The wheels cut off half of his foot.)

A disheveled, older man swung the door open, shined the light in my face, and after a few seconds, shouted, “Koski! I wondered when you’d show up! C’mon in!”

We spent hours getting to know one another, and drinking margaritas that he made by pouring tequila and Squirt into a large jar, scooping snow from the left side of the front door (“not from the right side…that’s where I piss,”) and shaking it up.

The electricity had been turned off after his furniture making business failed, and his wife had left him. He heated the one large room he lived in with a small woodstove, a 30’ stovepipe rising precariously through the ceiling, to who-knows-where.

At one point, he suddenly leaned close to me and said, “I’ve got a book for you. Best book I ever read!” (Rikku had a lot of those.)

I replied, “Is it Almanac of the Dead?”

He nearly tipped over backwards in his chair…”Yes! How did you know?”

 

I knew we’d be best buddies at that point, and we were until his death some 25 years later. In the meantime, I worked for him on a Sisyphean house building project that never really got done, and he was my best man when I got married, that other time.

Defrocked architect, proud Finlander, rascal… but he sure had good taste in books.

 

I haven’t gotten back to Silko’s writing for some reason, until now.

“The Turquoise Ledge” is mostly memoir. Silko takes us through her life from her early life at Laguna Pueblo, to her daily walks from her home outside of Tucson. She talks a lot about snakes, and some about finding turquoise. It’s a good book, but maybe not “the best book I ever read.”

 

 

I finished Taos local legend John Nichols’ “On Top of Spoon Mountain,” and felt the pleasure of adding that layer of experience to our visit. We’re really just tourists collecting Instagram moments for our electronic scrapbooks.

Of course, Nichols’ “Milagro Beanfield War” and the other novels in that trifecta helped form my idea of the New Mexican landscape and culture, but this ‘autobiographical’ novel was a fun, if predictable, way to catch up with him.

We got to Taos just after Nichols’ passing.

I’m starting to worry that I’m responsible for the recent deaths of famous authors as I pass through the Southwest (see Momaday, below.)

 

 

“The Pueblo Revolt” by David Roberts

I figured that if we were going to be walking through about a dozen pueblos I should try to learn a bit more about the people, the land, and its history.

It was really cool to be listening to Roberts describe a certain landmark that was central to the 1680 uprising against the Spanish occupiers (the only successful major revolt by Indigenous peoples in US history) and then look up and SEE that mesa, or that mission church built atop a kiva.

Good stuff, and somewhat humorous as you watch Roberts hit one tribal roadblock after another. The Pueblo people are notoriously secretive about their history and ceremonies, after centuries of being ripped off by anthros, historians, and art collectors.

Roberts lives on, as far as I know.

 


(the mission at Quarai... thousands of people lived here, pre-conquest.)


I’m also listening to a few other books as the mood strikes.

“How Not to Age”  Dr. Michael Greger is blowing my mind with his well-researched advice on nutrition and life-style. Julie is getting a bit weary of my random exclamations, like, “Did you know arthroscopic knee surgery doesn’t even work?!” (it doesn’t) or, “We have to drink more coffee and green tea, and less beer!” (we have) or, "We need to always have a one-year supply of beans and lentils!" (we do)

 

The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” by Thich Nhat Hanh

Sometimes I need to just calm the hell down. This book helps.

 

“Earth Keeper” by N. Scott Momaday

While we were strolling around the art museums of Santa Fe, Scott Momaday was transitioning to his original “bear” state somewhere nearby. He passed away on Jan. 24th at the age of 89.

The author of “The Way to Rainy Mountain,” and several books of poetry and essays, he was one of the first Native writers to burst into national prominence in the ‘60’s.  I wish I’d heard him read.

“Earth Keeper” is just a little book of his reflections on his life, and connection with the land.

 

So, along we go, doing what we love to do, and rarely what we don’t.

 

I would love to see Elaine retire and maybe do something like… I don’t know, take her finely-tuned trike around Leech Lake on a Water Protector Ride?

Hell, maybe we'd even go along with her. As long as she didn’t make us eat rabbit-eye stew.

But, she is already amazing as she is! And so are you.


Hey! Check out this fun interview with Staci Drouillard and WTIP....


Keep breathing  Keep moving  Keep eating plants...especially beans! (According to Dr. Greger :)


More Photos:


(We had our first walker! Yes, Laura Hady of Albuquerque joined for a mile. She goes to Haiti with us!)



(Julie, in repose, at the New Mexico Museum of Art)


(Boogid Zone!)

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5 Comments


slvbarb498
Feb 07

Love this! - Thanks for the laughs!!!

My point is this: if you just give in to reckless stupidity once in a while, you can accomplish things that others think are “amazing.”

 

Please… do this!

Make a plan, even a half-baked one, and take the leap. We only live once or twice.

What can go wrong? (lots, but what the hell….)


Love you two! Happy trails!

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walkforthelove
Feb 06

Thanks, Cathy!

Class clown has always been my role. For better or worse :)

I will listen to Thich today. 😍

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james.manley
Feb 06

Somewhere I'd never travelled. That's where you began. And as my dreams unravel with my thoughts for you. I long to go that way again. Further. Somewhere beyond all reason. And that's when I really see. And when I finally get there I can feel the love of what and who you are. You believe it. Believing more in yourself these days.

In my minds eye, It's like I'm there too. I'll be with you wondering which way today (St. Peter).

If it was today, I'd locate a space to hunker down preparing for a week of deep wet snow and wind and ride out this upcoming storm. Warning: Those dry arroyo's fill quickly....


We remain in Mexico where a…


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walkforthelove
Feb 06
Replying to

Thanks, Jim! So good to hear your voice in these comments. I hope your wound heals quickly, that Tina Marie doesn’t catch a duck, and that you get in a lot of miles in the sand!

We’re in Magdalena waiting for the 45 mph wind to abate just a bit so we can head west.

Love you both! J and J du Nord

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artbyhaight
Feb 05

Thanks for another good post, Jess. It made me laugh, take a deep breath of warm air, and appreciate books, especially Heart of the Buddha. 😊

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