Sunday, November 1, 2009

Day 35: Bunk

North of Buncombe to south of New Grand Chain. 20.5 miles/547.5

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I’m leaving from near the gravel pit just north of Buncombe, and traveling to a spot on the road south of New Grand Chain. Today’s walk is pretty much nothing. Country walking through a few small villages.

We went off daylight saving time last night. So this morning I’m starting an hour earlier, because it’s going to get dark just a little after 5:00 today. I need to get done with the walk by 4:00 or a little after. Then I’ll retrieve the car and go on down to Cairo and look for a place to park the motor home. No Wal-Marts for a few days now, until I get to Sikeston, Missouri.

The quarry of the Southern Illinois Stone Company is a magnificent sight to behold--an enormous tiered hole about half a mile wide and several hundred feet down from where I stand. So much stone and gravel has been removed. It's funny, but when people do this to get coal, they call it strip mining, and everybody thinks it's terrible. But do the same thing--level and dig out a hill or mountain--to get sand, gravel, and stone, and it seems to be okay, for the most part. Go figure.

Up another hill from the quarry sits a fat little water tower. Just down from there I enter Buncombe, population 200. The town is mostly to the west of Route 37. A handful of streets and a handful of houses. Buncombe was named for Buncombe County, North Carolina, where the early settlers came from. But that doesn't tell us much. The county in North Carolina was named for Edward Buncombe, a local guy who was a colonel during the Revolutionary War. He was wounded and captured by the British during the Battle of Germantown, near Philadelphia. They paroled him to Philadelphia, where (get this) he fell down some stairs while sleepwalking, reopening his wounds and causing him to bleed to death. Also, at the deep trivia level, his name was the origin of the word "bunkum," later shortened to "bunk." That came about because a congressman from the county was giving a poorly-received speech in which he invoked the name of the county, causing people to jeer at him.

Since nothing much is going on today, I might as well do the statistics for the month of October. I started October in San Pierre, Indiana, that town with the strange name, and ended it back up the hill from where I am this morning. I walked 20 days in the month, ten of them in Indiana and ten in Illinois. I walked a total of 344.1 miles, averaging 17.2 miles per day. My average for the Indiana days was 15.4 miles, but my average in Illinois was just under 19 miles a day. So I’ve stepped it up a bit. The week that ended yesterday was the first week in which I walked a hundred miles.

So what have I learned during the month of October about walking, and about this whole trip? When I started the month I was taking it easy, only walking about fifteen miles a day. I should have begun increasing my daily mileage by a mile or so a day back at the beginning. I’ve learned that I can walk 20 miles a day without much more trouble than walking ten or fifteen. The amount of walking is limited only by the amount of daylight available. I have to get started earlier, especially with the days getting shorter.

I’m hitting the wall later in the walk, too. Hitting the wall is what I call the time, during each day, when I reach the point where I say, “This is a bunch of crap. I can’t do this every day, it’s just too painful. I don’t know why I decided to undertake this in the first place.” As I say, I reach that point just about every day, then walk through it to the other side. I used to reach it at about 13 miles, and now it happens at about 15 miles. So that’s progress.

Before I started walking I had envisioned walking five days and taking two off. Now I see that that’s not really the best idea. So I’ve been walking three days and taking the fourth off, which comes out to about five and a half days of walking a week.

I’ve learned that the people of Indiana and Illinois are friendly and helpful, without being asked, but when someone does ask them for help, they respond generously.

I’ve also learned that every little place I walk through has a story. Sometimes I find out what that story is, and sometimes I don't. In the last analysis, the story of each place is the same—people are trying to get from one end of the day to the other, to care for their families, to make a buck, to keep up with the latest technology, watch the latest TV shows, eat the latest junk food. They want to know what Brad and Angelina are up to, or how the Titans or the Colts are doing. They want to be up-to-date, even if their towns are dinky and outdated.

Next little village I come to is Cypress, population 250, at about halfway through the walk. Again, it starts from atop a hill, and the road winds down and around and through it. These look more like coal mining towns than like farming towns. I assume Cypress was named for the many bald cypress trees that grow in this region. Somewhere not far from here, off Route 37, stands the state’s largest bald cypress. And that’s about it. As long as it took me to tell about it is as long as it took to walk through the place.

About five miles later I leave Johnson County and enter Pulaski County. Kazimierz Pulaski was a Revolutionary War hero for whom several counties around the country are named. He came to North America from Poland as a soldier of fortune, already having distinguished himself in battles against the Russians. He saved the life of George Washington in the Battle of Brandywine, for which he was promoted to Brigadier General by Washington. He was killed in the Siege of Savannah in 1779.

For the past several miles I’ve been going through wetlands and swamps. There are a number of state nature preserve areas around here. Near the end of the walk I enter New Grand Chain, population 250. New Grand Chain is a crummy little place, not quite as bad as LaClede, but close. As I pass through, a middle aged man with no teeth is sitting and smoking on the steps of what looks like an abandoned house. Its door is ajar. We exchange pleasantries about the weather, and he tells me to have a nice walk.

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