Thursday, February 18, 2010
Day 89: Garbage Mountains
Crosby to Houston. 19.3 miles/1627.9 total
Thursday, February 18, 2010
I’m heading out from the intersection of U.S. 90 and Crosby-Dayton Road in Crosby, going out across the wide median between the two sides of the highway, to the eastbound lanes so I can walk facing traffic. The median is pretty soggy, and I manage to get my feet soaked. But it’s a bright sunny day in the 50s, expected to get into the low 60s, and I should have plenty of time for them to dry out.
Today’s walk will bring me to within spitting distance of downtown Houston, on the east side at the intersection of Business 90 and I-610, the beltway around the inner city.
After a mile or two I get off U.S. 90 and onto Business 90. The intersection with Texas Route 2100 here will be as close as I come to downtown Crosby, a town of 1,714 settled in 1823 by a guy named Humphrey Jackson over on the San Jacinto River about half a mile west of present-day Crosby. The town got its present name from a railroad man (surprise!) named G.J. Crosby.
I continue to enjoy the cappuccinos from the push-button machines in the convenience stores. They're everywhere. I’ve learned to keep the button pushed for longer than the machine says to, then to pull the cup away when the water comes out at the end, and top it off with regular coffee after the foam subsides. The prevalent brand is now Folger’s, rather than Community Coffee, which dominated throughout Louisiana and into East Texas. Community is a New Orleans-based company, and its coffee, both regular and cappuccino, is good, and became my daily companion throughout my long trek through Louisiana. However, I must say that I prefer the taste of the Folger’s cappuccino, and also the fact that so far the machines have been better maintained. Sometimes the Community cappuccino machines were in need of cleaning, and the coffee had a slightly moldy taste.
Business 90 takes me out into the quiet two-lane country. I come to a historical marker about the aforementioned Humphrey Jackson. He was born in Ireland in 1784 and came to this country in 1808. He settled on a sugar plantation in Louisiana and served in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. Unable to manage his plantation without the use of slavery, which he opposed, Jackson came to Texas in 1823 to join Stephen Austin’s colony and settled on land at this site, which as it turned out wasn’t part of Austin’s colony, but did later join it. He was elected to serve as alcalde of this new district. In 1833 he died when he was hit by a falling tree while clearing land.
Soon I cross the San Jacinto River, several hundred yards wide. This marks the outer edge of the urban area, Houston’s Rubicon.
Let me tell you what’s on my mind this morning, since that’s pretty much what the blog is all about. I’m thinking of taking a break from this walk at some point. Not permanently, but for longer than just a week or ten days. Maybe for a season or two. I’ve gone over 1600 miles, which is probably halfway. The physical part is no problem; I’ve long since proven to myself that I can do the whole walk, and I'm probably in better shape than I’ve been in for years. It’s the mental and emotional fatigue that’s becoming difficult. You all remember what Yogi Berra said about baseball, quoted here in a previous post—that it’s ninety percent mental and the other half is physical. I find that applies equally to this walk.
What’s most difficult to deal with is the isolation, which is inherent in the project. I have the laptop and a cell phone, of course, and am in daily contact with my wife, but I miss seeing her and being amid the comforts of my home. Some time away is good; too much time away is not.
I say all this having only been gone for about five or six weeks this time, but knowing that I have four full months of walking to go yet. So I’m thinking of stopping when I get to Austin or maybe to the Texas-New Mexico border. Then again I could change my mind.
Not a whole lot of excitement out here on Business 90. A lot of business. It's widened out to five lanes and is crawling with trucks. Factories, tire stores, gas stations, places piled high with wooden pallets, the Champion Paper Factory, a place called Union Tank Car. Co., a gigantic yard filled with shipping containers stacked five high, forming huge walls of metal off of which the whistles of the freight trains echo. And in between these behemoth undertakings, everywhere, are tiny Mexican food stands, wagons, and restaurants. Taquerias. Pupuserias.
I’ve gone about 15 miles, working my way into Houston. Walking parallel to the railroad tracks, past pastures, junkyards with mean dogs, broken down houses, brand new warehouses, pawn shops. BNSF and Union Pacific and Kansas City Southern engines pull hundreds of cars. Far off on the horizon I can now see the Houston skyline. City skylines are like signatures. Some are famous and recognizable and other are not. I don’t know the Houston skyline, but it’s looming ever closer now, reminding me that this is the largest city I have walked through. Bigger by far than Memphis or New Orleans. In fact, the fourth-largest city in the U.S., with a population of over 2.2 million.
To the north of Business 90 is the low mountain range of Houston’s landfill. In a landscape otherwise flat as a pancake these hundred foot hills of trash stand out, mostly covered over by sod and crisscrossed with truck trails. Over on the west end of the range the garbage is still uncovered, gradually being flattened and compressed by huge bulldozers, birds flying overhead. Millions of plastic bags. I’d love to be able to spend a few hours checking out all that garbage.