a long walk: to the end, my dear

Hope did die here. I wake up with such anger and evil in me, lapping up from my legs and drowning my chances of feeling ok today. I haven’t felt this dark in a long time.

Stepping out of the cabin, I am hungry and cold. This morning’s dose of ibuprofen won’t seem to kick in, and I have to limp over to the gas station for something to eat. There are a lot of people in and out for their morning coffees (and a couple of six-packs of Miller, I notice…. Lunch?) I have a Bucket of Cereal and a banana with my weak coffee, getting steadily more annoyed at the overly-eager manager guy with his bright banter. He never stops, but after a while I realize, Hey, he never stops. Maybe it’s not morning bullshit at all. He might actually be this cheerful.

Maybe I can be buoyed by his spirit and turn my day around. I mean, I started yesterday in serious pain and ended up having a pretty wonderful day. I have to believe I can do it again today.

But the drugs never do kick in, and I cannot conjure anything that I felt yesterday, just Misery. How did I do it? Was it just blind Optimism? A random manic high before today’s crash? What’s worse, I’m freezing. I may be a bit higher up, but the temperature doesn’t seem much lower, and the sun is out again. There is, however, a biting cold wind, sharp and constant.

I am limping still, and miserable. My day has begun with 4 miles straight uphill, a long stretch of dull road and country highway with an uncomfortably angled shoulder biting my bad heel at every step. I seek out lawns and verges of soft grass, especially if they are angled in the opposite direction, into the road, to give my punished feet a reprieve. Am I really going to limp 30 miles, at an angle?

The uphill climbs do warm my body, but the wind snaps at my ears and hands. It makes my bones ache from the inside, and there is no getting used to the pains of the past three days’ walking.

I’m on a long boring road again, alongside and under Route 17. I just want to make it to Monticello, the next big town, and then I can decide what to do. That’s still a good 8 miles away…

At Rock Hill I find a gas station, and I desperately need to get warm. It’s an ugly and unfriendly place, the two brothers who must own it bickering about something in a language I don’t understand. I wedge myself into the broken Formica booth with hot tea and the New York Times. I am walled in by cases of Diet Snapple Drink, obscuring the window. My tea smells like plastic.

Reading the paper actually helps take my mind off it all, and I realize how powerful it is not to dwell in Misery. (If only it were that easy to ignore…!) I turn my phone on to the gong of several text messages. My best friend is also headed to her house today, driving in from the city. She’s been worried about me in the cold, even more so when I admit how unhappy I am today. She says, “Stay there. I’ll come and get you.” But I am already pressing on, determined to make it to Monticello, at the very least.

My pace is even worse now, but there are no places to stop and stretch on this road – no warm sunny rocks, like every other day. I trudge on, freezing…

Near Lake Marie Louise I find a closed-down restaurant with a few steps in perfect sunshine. I sit and eat half a gas station bagel, watching an old trucker across the road loading large barrels into his truck. I wonder if he’d drive me the rest of the way.

I am not that far from Monticello now, but entering the town from the ass-end, it seems, since everything I pass is broken and abandoned. Eventually I make it to East Broadway, which the town seems to be attempting to spruce up, judging from the construction and new white concrete. I am hurting so much and moving so slow, I have to stop in a bank to rest and warm up before I continue on. I am just looking for a place to sit for a while now. I can’t walk anymore.

I get a booth at the Monticello Diner, and order chicken soup and sweet potato fries. The coffee is so bad I have to switch to tea. I don’t know what to do. I check my little pedometer and see I’ve walked 99.69 miles. It’s an almost perfect number, just shy enough of an even 100 to make me feel that much more a failure.

I have a few options: wait here for a few hours to get picked up; grab a room at the scary place across the street and finish tomorrow; or crawl up the way to the bus station and just go home. None of them seem great to me, but even if I could walk the rest of the way today I wouldn’t make it to the house until long after dark. I imagine it’d be quite a bit colder by then, too…

I sit as long as I can, until I can’t in good conscience ask for another warm up for my teabag. It’s bleeding pale water now. I get my backpack on and get myself out the door. It’s the tiniest rise up to the corner where I turn toward the bus station, but it feels like a giant hill to me. I don’t know that this is the right thing to do, to go home now, and I start to worry that this isn’t even the right way to the bus. I turn around to make sure and I find myself back standing at the intersection with no idea what I’m doing, aside from shivering.

I look at my pedometer and see I’ve managed 100 miles – 100.12 to be exact. That’s it, I’m done. There are two taxis just parked at the road behind me, and with the smallest wave one starts up. I get in and ask the guy to drive my last 17 miles. He’s super talkative as we drive, actually happy to go this way so he can pick up a prescription or something. I’m not really listening but tossing a Yeah and a Huh his way to keep me out of it. I’m just noticing the speed at which I’m moving, and the beauty of this last landscape. This would have made the prettiest walk.

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