Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The View from My Life

Austin to Houston
The View from My Life
Another mess of tangled freeway walking today was. After oversleeping a couple of hours, I put myself in the late line for a series of buses and waiting for buses, trying to get back to the highway where I left off coming into Austin. By the time I actually got on the road it was after 9, and a bonehead move put me 2 miles behind by noon. I’d been making great time once I started walking, but upon stopping for water at a gas station, I exited out the side door and started walking, now southward instead of eastward. When I did find myself on the right path, after backtracking the 2 miles, I was daunted by the myriad looping overpasses and rushing traffic in all directions. But, this is my life, and this is what I signed up for, easy or difficult! With a wave of my hand, I left Austin in the dust and exhaust, with the hope that Bastrop will bring as many new friends and unique experiences.
Frustration mounted as every logistical detail complicated itself throughout the day, seemingly for my sake; all of a sudden the shoulder disappeared, leaving me to decide whether to walk with traffic behind me or try to cross another freeway with a barbed wire median to walk oncoming. Either way, there was a huge bridge with no shoulder I’d have to brace, very high above zooming cars. I stood there for a while, surely looking puzzled, and a car pulled up. The gentleman inside offered to take me over the overpass. A short few seconds later I was smooth sailing on my feet again, and made it about a mile when I was approached again, this time by a family in their driveway, and they let me sit in the shade of their yard for a while. I got several ride offers today, none of which I accepted, but the best of which was a very sketchy, windowless black van, painted like a shark.The guys were young, probably younger than me, and they seemed very cool; I have been kicking myself for not even seeing if they lived in Bastrop and wanted to get coffee or something. Perhaps I’ll see them down the road, but who knows. A missed opportunity is something I've grown to dwell on with so much to hear and to say.
Now I’m sitting outside a church in Wyldwood, only 9 miles away from Bastrop. The air is a cool 75º, having shed the midday misery of 90º. I’m unable to pilfer internet around here, so I suppose I’ll turn in early. The sun is setting, and I’m waiting for the magical moment of just enough darkness that will allow me to go to sleep at an hour too early for my meandering mind.
This playground structure made a nice camp for the evening.
I got started walking before the sun came up, excited to get to Bastrop. I’ve heard great things about this place, and while Wyldwood was a nice stay for an evening, there isn’t much left to explore on its one street. A mist hung in the air, tickling my face as I pressed forward in the dawn. Without the light of the sun, headlights danced through the fog like fire-lit lanterns, alerting me of speeding vehicles ahead. For a nice 5 miles the air was cool, until the sun took on its merciless reign of the day.
I wasn’t impressed by my initial survey of Bastrop, which, when you enter from the West, is a series of corporate stores and highway-- Strip Mall America! What was it that people found so charming about this place? There had to be something more to Bastrop than this…I found the Starbuck’s that I believed was the only coffee shop in town, parked myself in a chair, and waited for word, ultimately, that my friends from Austin could not meet me for camping. By that point I’d had it with the artificial environment, the institution of air conditioning (which makes 50 degrees the unalterable answer to 90 degrees) and the shamelessly devoted barista, frantically trying to sell the last of their now out-of-season merchandise.
BUT...Once you get over the bridge, the town of Bastrop reveals plenty of opportunity for leisurely walking along the river, a sit  in some luscious grass, and of course, more coffee.
I immediately meet Viola Gay, “but not the funny kind of gay,” she assures me. After a moment, though, we agree it’s ok to be gay. Viola proudly tells me that she has lived in Bastrop her entire life, and would never think of living anywhere else. She gave me an NFL rubber bracelet, and I told her the history of gifted bracelets that are now resting safely in storage until the walk is finished. The bracelet is so that I never forget her, and I promise that I won’t.
This little anole wants to be my friend. It keeps sitting on the couch next to  me, but when I try to take a picture, it runs away. I’ve found my coffee shop in Bastrop, so I don’t have to wander around aimlessly any longer. To my great surprise, Tommy Gunns Cafe, started by an industrious 15 year old 2 years ago, had the exact flamingo playing tennis  mug I grew up with at Grandma’s house, which I thought I was unique in owning
I happily lazed away the afternoon, talking to Sharon, mother of the afore-mentioned industrious now-17 year-old. Sharon’s supportive attitude toward her daughter’s business is astounding, and it’s apparent this young lady is going to thrive in life rather than wallowing like a lot of teenagers do. Sharon, in her ever-kind spirit, gave me some french fries, cut with an apple peeler into one huge spiral fry. The adjoining cabin was mine for the evening, another token of Sharon’s kindness.
I regret now that I didn’t spend an extra day in Bastrop.
What luck the universe has bestowed upon me today! My heart is in rapture as I walk in pine pitch through tall trees and sparse traffic; I stop for a moment and let it soak in that this is my life!
As I left the cabin on my way to the post office, Sharon coincided with me at the main intersection of town, with a Starbucks frappuccino and a piece of pumpkin bread, happy to see me. I thanked her again for all the help she has been to me, the magnitude of which she will probably never realize. In many moments of quiet reflection, the people who have helped me on this journey come to mind. I regret that some names I don’t remember, in passing receipt of small favors, some people I will probably not have the opportunity to reconnect with. But the gratitude will never leave my heart. If I have learned anything from these travels, it is that the world is not so scary a place, nor does it abound with malicious people. Contrarily, I believe that every person has the potential, and usually the desire, to encounter others positively; How in the world could this journey be working otherwise? There are people who would have you believe that there is a psychopath, a thief, a murderer or rapist around every corner, just waiting for an opportune moment. I don’t buy it. My experience simply does not demonstrate this as a reality.
I received Sasha’s letter, and the few little trinkets included, among which were some of those awesome little chocolate energy nugget thingies from the co-op. Today I rested in a field of wild morning glories, watching black butterflies gently visit them. They softly probe for breakfast, never disrupting the balanced harmony of which they are a part. It’s days like this that I really live for, and they inspire the rare insight that life is beautiful always, not just when the days are as apparently wonderful as this.
I stopped at the Main Hall cafe 6 miles out of Bastrop, and as is usually the case, it didn’t exist anymore. But the early risers are up and having a drink at the bar in front. It wasn’t a total loss though, because there were some nice shady spots to sit in comfortable chairs outside the equally-abandoned-looking hotel, and on my way out of the bar, one of the aforementioned early risers gave me ten dollars to buy lunch. Where I can accomplish this, I have no idea, but I have a cookie left over from yesterday that somebody gave me.
Paige, a pretty small town, provided for me a lovely grilled cheese sandwich with tomatoes, lettuce, and onion, my new favorite food in Texas. Mainly this is because it’s the only vegetarian option that’s not iceberg salad. I slept behind a building in a pretty inconspicuous place, ready to leave early in the morning.
Giddings was another quick stop. I spent most of my time there in the surprisingly nice library. Here, too, I was met with great hospitality—the librarian helped me tap into city’s resources for homeless, and I had a place to stay for the evening. She also put some cash in my hand, not letting me refuse.
While enjoying a breakfast of hash browns with diced tomatoes and cheese, a reporter walked through the door, ready to take down my story. It begins like this:
“When you don’t worry about money, everything just seems to work itself out. That’s what Shay Emmons has found out as she walks across America, with little or no cash most of the way. Shay sat in a side booth next to a table full of bikers at Mel’s Diner in Giddings last Thursday, quietly eating breakfast and telling her story of a 25-year-old woman who wanted to challenge herself. So she did…”
Standing in front of the motorcycles with Dora and Beth, who waved away my tab before letting me continue my walk to Ledbetter.
It wasn’t a particularly interesting place to end my day, Ledbetter. The store there, though, (the only thing in Ledbetter) was a very very old shop run by a very old woman, and the lady there, Angel, gave me some free ice cream. I don’t normally eat ice cream, in fact it’s been years since I’ve had real, dairy, ice cream, but Blue Bell is in the area and everyone’s been telling me that I just have to have some. Over my treat, I explained to her my dilemma about walking on the 290 when there was no shoulder, and she offered to take me to the next nearby town, Burton. I was much more excited to end my day there, and not to have to stress about walking on the 290, ew.
My heart sang as we rolled up to this little town, full or greenery and cute little houses. A true representation of Texas’s Hill Country, Burton has all the country charm and old-timey architecture you could dream of. Before I committed to a sit at the town’s one pub, I explored the sloping streets and defunct old buildings, including the Cotton Gin Museum.

The Pig and Whistle, Burton’s pub, turned out to be an excellent only choice, as I landed a nice salad and a place to stay for the night, out in the country. The people I met there were spectacularly fun! It’s always kind of fun to see the locals in a bar, drinking together and talking about their lives, especially when you aren’t drinking yourself.
Today’s walk has by far been the most beautiful. Often shaded by looming oaks the road curves up and down hills, giving my legs a welcome workout. I am bursting at the seams with contentment in life, I could melt into a mess of tears thinking of how full my life has become with love and gratitude. There is an undeniably therapeutic effect walking has on the soul, particularly in conjunction with immersion in nature. In the words of John Muir,
“Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
I couldn’t agree more. I deeply believe that most of society’s ills would be remedied if we all spent more time in the company of Nature.

And as I contemplated the glories of outdoor living, I was intercepted by a reporter! How she knew to find me on this back-road, I will never know…Front page again!

I got to Brenham tired of walking, despite the short day of 14 miles. As soon as I could, I found a place to eat, my limbs hanging soggily from my body. Before I could sit down to enjoy my avocado and sprout sandwich, though, I found myself bombarded by fans and inundated with their questions. Just as I was about to take a bite of my much-needed lunch,  a reporter from the radio approached me, handy with his microphone and asking away. Thank you, Brenham, for your enthusiasm! I wish I could have looked more alive for you!
“You have to eat this cake, it’s the best thing.” Best advice I’ve heard all day, kids really know what’s up. At Mobius, the local coffee shop, I sat and uploaded a few hundred photos while a couple of inquisitive little girls kept me entertained. When I met Andrew, I had no idea I'd soon be on my way to one of the best weekends of my life. After some preliminary talk of life and adventure, we left the coffee shop in a curiously big van, and began the drive out the family property in the country. Andrew was quiet for a moment, as if in a deep thought, and then said, “I have to tell you something about our lifestyle, before we get way out to the house.” This got the gears in my head turning. “It might freak you out, and if it does, just say so and we’ll turn around.” Now, being from California, I consider myself pretty open-minded, especially in terms of the word “lifestyle.” It really could pertain to anything, and I’ve just about seen it all, not much makes me flinch. Andrew proceeded to explain the family dynamics, warning me first that he has 12 children, 7 of whom live in the house. No problem. "It can be very loud and chaotic, though it’s a spacious house."  No problem. “There are 3 women in the household.” OK.  “We’re  all one family.” That’s all?  When I heard “this might freak you out,” I was thinking they must be cannibals or something extreme.  More on this thought in a moment.
We walk into the house and it’s alive and full of motion. The kitchen, from which we entered, is brightly lit and spacious, at the moment occupied by a lady who will soon introduce herself as Ann, and a few children.

Above, dinner is underway, and Hannah is trying her hand at high heels and a fedora. Kurt is attempting Tom Cruise’s Risky Business floor slide, for some reason with a garbage bag around his legs. Neil, right, prefers watching videos on the iPhone while practicing indoor shirtless skating. The two youngest, Mark and Bryan, are seen  below in a rare moment of truce, sharing a wide variety of toys, best enjoyed when strewn about haphazardly. This moment didn’t last long. The stasis prevailed almost immediately after the photo-op, and one began screaming as the other proceeded to hit. They get along as any two loving toddler brothers do, and the innocent faces are priceless.
As I look for the ideal spot to sit for dinner, somebody mutters, “Well, he hit me in the head with a truck so I’m stealing his seat.”

Then there are the kitties…

We had a splendid breakfast, and I felt spoiled to have the special vegetarian fare--a quesadilla with spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, and salsa. Mimosas and coffee also make me feel special! We ate on the back deck, which looks out onto a green expanse of  trees. The sunshine shines in all the right places and the breeze breezes to cool the air.

After breakfast we spent a lazy afternoon at the house until Cheryl had a piano concert to raise money for the Brenham Music Academy. Cheryl is unquestionably one of the most talented individuals I’ve met, I felt this even before I saw her perform. The Sheet Music Concert was a great success, with Cheryl sight-reading the favorite pieces of attendees, arranging them to her own style.  Clad in a bright peacock shawl, fingers flying over pieces like Warsaw Concerto and My Favorite Things, Cheryl is the ideal eccentric: smart as a whip, creative, and down to earth.
Andrew said something this morning that really struck me. Though their home is an intentional Christian community and they host what is like a church service from their living room, I’ve found philosophical open-mindedness and exploration to be a prevailing theme here. He said, “Instead of loving people of other faiths we kill each other over ideas as to what happens after death.” I feel like I have used these exact words in conversation, and I’m refreshed to hear this idea preached rather than some of the more destructive ones for a change. I would have like to have sat in for more of the philosophizing, but I was lucky to be in town for the once a month farmer’s market in the area. William, the oldest of Andrew’s children still living in the house, took me with him. We brought fried green tomatoes to the preliminary meet-n-greet potluck, where I was happy to find local hibiscus tea, mung bean salad, sweet potato casserole, and pecan pie. Soon the place was a bustling marketplace, vendors in gazeboes selling jam, cheese, meat, and vegetables, and in the background we were given a grand tour of the farm.

We arrived back at the house in time to do plenty of nothing, which seems like the perfect thing to do on a Sunday afternoon. Because we stayed up so late last night, I was relatively sleepy, and am glad I decided to take an extra day off. Not to mention I hate walking on Sundays, because nothing is open and I often find myself with no way of getting water. After dinner we decided on a movie, The Usual Suspects. Cheryl and I went out back for a few minutes, and there she prayed for my feet and said some of the nicest things anybody has ever said to me. I continue to get very nice emails from all of them.

After this weekend, I don't think I've ever seen a MORE functional and loving family, and it was easy for them to persuade me to take an extra day off in their company. I've learned something very valuable from traveling, constantly being submerged in cultures and belief systems different than my own: though we all have different ways of thinking and attaining happiness, we are all looking for the same things. It is easy to point at others' ways of doing things, making judgment as we see fit, but how often do we actually seek to understand? I say live and let live; do what makes you happy!


I got to Chappell Hill early in the day, hoping to find the bed and breakfast I was told might let me stay a night. Before I could get anywhere, though, I was confronted with a very sweet lady, Judy, and asked if I had a place to stay. How perfect luck is sometimes! I took a brief exploration of Chappell Hill’s one street, finding that the highly recommended Bever’s Kitchen had just closed for the day. Dejected and hungry, I walked away to find a newspaper with my picture on it being waved in my face by a neighbor. The door to Bever’s opened up, and they fed me a lunch of sautéed spinach and the best mashed potatoes ever. To top it all off, I was also given a slice of chocolate mousse pie, which I was sure would keep me full for a couple of days. Cynthia, on her last day of work there after 21 years, offered to take me to Judy’s place, and Rosa offered me a place to stay when I got to Hempstead. What a great thing it is to be in the newspaper! People suddenly have a new appreciation for what you’re doing, it seems.
I spent a wonderful afternoon and evening with Judy and her husband, Allen. We sipped coffee while they excitedly, but gently, prodded me for details on my walk. Judy took me out to dinner, and I gluttonously indulged on veggie raviolis smothered in a cream sauce that I knew would give me a stomach ache, as does most of Texas’s cuisine. But I’m happy to occasionally eat things I know I shouldn’t be eating, what fun is life otherwise? We connected deeply over our meal, talking about our various volunteering experiences, the wondrous and challenging things we have been through in life, and the people we love. I’m tempted to say it’s so rarely in life that we meet such amazing people, and have the chance to connect with them face to face. But then I realize, the world is full of these people, and I have been so lucky to connect with truly amazing, loving, and individual people on a daily basis. Judy is one of those rarities, though, one of those very few people in life who just has this natural ability to make you feel loved, absolutely without judgment. When we returned to the house, Allen set to work hunting the armadillo that digs up the garden. Luckily, I don’t think he had any success.
Goodbye, pair #3, you have served me well.

I cannot believe my luck today. Judy insisted on getting me proper shoes this morning, and I insisted on getting them at a thrift store. We checked, but there was nothing, so we went to Penny’s. There I found the perfect pair of shoes, only to be disappointed by the unavailability in my size. I was content to begin walking, just wearing the shoes I had on, but Judy had just one more place in mind. To my great surprise, there they were, just sitting nicely on the shelf—the first pair of shoes I began walking with, the most comfortable wonderful shoes that I was sure I’d never be able to find again—my Rocket Dogs!

My feet are in heaven! Thank you Judy and Allen for your hospitality!

Crossing the gorgeous Brazos River, above

Taking a rest under the freeway.

Walking into Hempstead from the back road. Below, the water tower is the tallest thing in the city!

My welcome to Hempstead was a suspicious glance and an “excuse me, but you’re going to have to leave your backpack at the courtesy desk” at the grocery store. I returned this with a “Hell no, (and perhaps some other profanities) I’m going to go support a business that doesn’t treat its patrons like criminals.” And with that I marched off angrily, hoping Rosa might have some non-meat snackies. I was in luck! I had some macaroni and cheese while her youngest of 5 children, Rocket, threw Cheerios all over the floor. One by one, the four girls made their appearances, whether wearing satiny princess pajamas or toting around a handy iPhone. Rocket kept me company as I helped myself to some arthritis and sore foot lotion Rosa gave me for the road. Spending so much time in family settings makes me so excited to settle down and start having kids. I used to wonder how people could possibly want 3, 4, or 5 kids, but when I observe Rosa’s family, it all just seems to fit into place.
I stopped in Hockley last night, not a very exciting place. The only thing here is a bar.
I've long since lost track of time. I’m tired today, having resigned to sleeplessness last night on account of many factors. I thought I’d found the perfect spot, under a tree behind the post office, but the tree belonged to an uncomfortably friendly possum and the post office received truckloads all night. I was also met by a very large dog and a very soft brown puppy that looked like a bear.

For a town that has nothing in it, Hockley is rather alive at night. The scenery shifts day by day as I leave the Hill Country toward Houston, the sprawling megalopolis whose outskirts I enter though I’m still 30 miles away from its heart. True I’m not the biggest fan of sprawling, monstrous cities, but I couldn’t be more excited to get to Houston, where I’ll have a bath, watch some movies, and sleep in a bed for a week!

Cypress is nothing to write home about. I arrived, disillusioned and dejected, only to find that I couldn’t possibly walk to Jersey Village on the road provided. My sweet little Old Washington Road has vanished, already ten miles ago. The frontage roads can hardly be distinguished from the freeway itself, congested and break-neck, without shoulder. Texas has been difficult for a number of reasons, not least of all because it is in most places absolutely hostile to pedestrians. Cypress can hardly be called its own city—its roads are parking lots, its businesses, big boxes. This enormous strip mall comprises the city of Cypress, and it is no place for humans. I am continually in awe at the things we create, the attempts we make at comfort and convenience. These things become arbitrary, perpetuating themselves when nobody particularly cares for them. In nature there is a beauty so simple and uncontrived, that no machine or construct could emulate. Yet we destroy it to lay down our parking lots and to build up enormous stores of useless things to satisfy a culture of anxiety. For now, I get to put this place behind me. I have the week to enjoy, and I have my Sasha’s visit to look forward to in a matter of days. Houston, here I come!
ALL of the photos are now here:

The blog, which is just a running accumulation of these emails and journalings, is here:
Slow down. Live simply. Seek Wonder.
So! Onward! I am an adventure traveler. I am not a tourist seeking a distraction from my discomforts and worries. I am a lover of life seeking to submerge myself in the world outside myself. The nature and quality of my experience are based on some questions: -What do I want from the road? -Why will I travel? I want to see amazing things I want to meet amazing people I want to do a lot of walking I want freedom I want stories I want to see and try new things I want all of these things at the expense of taking risks and encountering uncertainty. _____________________________________________________________________
These travels are neither for fundraiser nor for personal profit. I seek to live as minimally as possible while traveling, and in life in general. However, I rely primarily on the kindness of others, and the faith that everything I need I will always find in one way or another. The infinite graciousness of others has kept me moving forward, day by day. Any help along the way is monumentally appreciated, as food and shelter are of the utmost uncertainty on this trip.
If you would like to make a small contribution for food, shelter, and other necessities, you may do so by clicking here. specify your own amount as a gift, and help me get one day and one city further! As always, anything helps and is so very much appreciated!
If you'd like to send a letter of support, please contact me for location specifics for general delivery. Thank you all so much! Love, Shay