Sunday, March 28, 2010

Day 100: One Hundred Days of Solitude

Seward Junction to Briggs. 20.8 miles/1856.3 total

Sunday, March 28, 2010

From the roadside near Seward Junction I'm heading north by northwest on U.S. 183 toward a spot about four miles past Briggs, in the middle of nowhere.

Yet another cloudless day, but not as warm as yesterday, and very windy. I believe the official forecast is for the temperature to reach the high 60s, but with the wind it feels pretty cool.

I am now outside the urban ambit of Austin, beyond the northern suburbs, which I think semi-officially end at Leander, through which I walked yesterday. In fact, I saw on the news that just yesterday they opened a commuter train station in Leander, part of the Austin mass transit system, although the opening ceremony was long finished by the time I arrived there in the middle of the afternoon. And not a soul remained. Nor did I see a single train. But it was a nice-looking station.

Today is my 100th day of walking. One hundred days of solitude, as it were. To observe the day, some statistics about the walk so far are in order. The first one is easy—don’t even need a calculator. My average daily distance is 18.563 miles. Considering that I started out with wimpier distances and only had my first 20-mile walk on day 31, I guess that’s not bad. And the average is going up every day.

On the other hand, it has been 202 days since I started the project, on September 8, 2009, which means that I have not walked on 102 days, more than half the time. (That brings the real daily average down to 9.189 miles.) So what have I done with those 102 days of not walking? I went back and checked my records this morning. On 67 days I was either at home or en route to or from home. That leaves 35 days off on the road in the motor home or with friends. So my ratio of walking days to off days on the road is 2.85 to 1. That could stand some improvement, although some of those days off on the road have been for the purpose of visiting cities and friends. In general my habit has been to walk three days and rest one, a ratio of 3 to 1, not bad considering that before I started I figured I would walk five days and rest two, which would have been a ratio of only 2.5 to 1. Some might wonder why I don’t just walk every day I can and not take days off. It would be possible. But I find that I do better when I have a little time to do laundry, chores in connection with the motor home, and to relax. It may be the thing that has kept me going, since my walking days, from the time I get up to when I finish blogging, usually last at least 14 hours.

Well, there certainly are no rules here except the ones I have imposed on myself. I've enjoyed all my days off, both at home and in transit. But having said that, I will allow that I somehow feel compelled to increase the number of walking days and the length of the walks. I could be in California by now, or very nearly so, had I taken fewer breaks. After all, you’re not paying me to hang around the motor home and do nothing, are you? Come to think of it, you’re not paying me at all. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that . . . .

Still, I’ll be taking tomorrow off, because I’m out of clean underwear and I have a few other things to do.

I happen to be listening, on my iPod, to a book on CD by Bill Bryson, called A Walk in the Woods, about his hiking of the Appalachian Trail in 1996. That’s a humbling thing to contemplate, because that kind of hiking really is challenging in a way this is not. Carrying everything on one’s back and camping every night, walking up hill and down dale in all kinds of weather, and even then doing maybe 15 miles a day, now that’s serious hiking. I’ve walked small pieces of that trail in Vermont and New Hampshire, and it’s far more rigorous than this roadside walking ever gets. (Still, I just listened to a passage where he bitches and moans mightily about how treacherous it is to walk along six-lane pedestrian-unfriendly highways in urban areas and how intolerable it is that there are so few sidewalks in America, blah blah blah. I thought, a little smugly, “Welcome to my world, you big baby.”)

About two and a half miles into the walk I cross the North San Gabriel River, whose water is clear and whose river bed is emerald green.

A word about the weather here in Texas. Over the past several years the state has been undergoing a drought, but this year, thanks to an El Nino (don't ask me what that is), they’ve had a greater than normal amount of rainfall. The reservoirs and rivers are just about at normal levels now. Of course the very idea of “normal” in the context of weather is only based on statistical history. We make the mistake of assuming that because the weather has behaved a certain way in the past, say over the previous one hundred years, that it will or should behave in a certain way this year, which is not the case. In reality, each year, and indeed each day, the weather behaves exactly as it should—or rather, as it does—without regard to either the past or the future. The weather is not a school child or a trained animal. Indeed, there’s nothing to say that it should ever rain in central Texas again, until the end of time.

When things go “wrong” weatherwise (meaning when there is “too little” rainfall, or when there are “too many” hurricanes, for example), we’re quick to blame human activities for those changes, and we like to think that only selfish fools and greedy corporate villains are responsible. Rarely do we stop to consider that what we want from the weather is for it to do things that help us, pretty much without regard to anything else. Even our worries about the loss of other species ultimately centers on what those losses will do to us.

Meanwhile we rut and reproduce and continue to increase in numbers. And why not? That's what we do best. The biggest mistake in all this is the handwringing some people do about it, as if they actually had any power over any of it. Think Jethro Tull, Locomotive Breath:

In the shuffling madness
Of the locomotive breath,
Runs the all-time loser,
Headlong to his death.
He feels the piston scraping,
Steam breaking on his brow,
. . .
God stole the handle
And the train it won’t stop going—
No way to slow down.

Each time I reach the top of a long rolling rise I can see yet another gradual rise that looks just a little higher, a mile or so in the distance. The elevation of Austin is about 500 feet and that of Lampasas, the next city I’ll reach, is a bit over 1000 feet.

Let me try to describe the countryside up here. It’s gently rolling, with vast tracts of grassy pasture, dotted everywhere with small cedar or juniper trees, some no bigger than bushes, varying in height from about five to perhaps thirty feet. Cattle graze, spread out wide over the land, on ranches that appear several times larger than those in East Texas. And everywhere—I mean everywhere—there are barbed wire fences. Practically no land is unfenced. In the far distance, beyond the cattle and the bushes, are more ridges and the occasional knobby or flat hilltop, all covered with cedars and oaks. This is, in short, what most out-of-staters envision when they think of Texas.

And wildflowers, as always. Many species. Today I’m noticing some delicate white ones with pale purple streaks on the inner sides of the petals, making them look like fine china teacups. Evening primroses, I think they are.

At about 12.5 miles I leave Williamson County and enter Burnet County, named for David Gouverneur Burnet, first president, and also a vice president, of the Republic of Texas. He was a New Jersey boy, having been born in Newark. He once got into a shouting match with Sam Houston, his successor, and called him a “half Indian.” Houston responded by calling Burnet a “hog thief,” and Burnet challenged Houston to a duel, which the latter refused to fight.

I come to Prairie View Cemetery, dating to the early 1890s. In front are four huge stones of members of the Greene family, which stand like chunks of Stonehenge. The wind has been blowing steadily for several hours, and up here by the graveyard it comes into my face at about twenty miles per hour, as if trying to hold me back.

After the cemetery the land flattens out for several miles until Briggs, a tiny community located on a spur off of Highway 183. I opt to stay on 183, though, because there’s a store just past the fork in the road. Besides, I went through Briggs earlier today, and there isn’t much to see. It’s been a long time since the prospect of going through a tiny village has tempted me to take a detour, especially when on the main road there’s Jack’s General Store and gas station, where for the first time today I’ll be able to get some refreshment. By “refreshment” I don’t mean just comestibles, because I’m perfectly capable of packing enough food and drink for an entire day’s walking, and really don’t need these stops. No, the kind of refreshment I’m referring to is that of being in a store with other people. And who could resist a place that has the words “FOOD & FUN” written in six-foot black letters on its sheet metal roof?

Well, there’s food here, but I don’t know what the fun is supposed to be. Maybe the fun doesn’t start until after dark.

The road starts to go downhill after Briggs, evidently toward a river valley. The motor home comes into view, perched on the at a bit of an angle. I'm really closer to Watson than to Briggs now, but Watson will have to wait until next time.


Anonymous said...

Don't want you to feel lonely today... The hundred days have not affected the peculiar Teeuwissen sense of humor. Happy to hear that you still are worried about clean undies.

Billie Bob said...

Congratulations on reaching the century mark. It’s quite an accomplishment. ...looking forward to hearing about the next 100.