a long walk: up towns and downs

Despite my luxurious surroundings, this is not a morning of Renewal and Light. I am no more rejuvenated than when I crashed last night, from another ache-ful sleep. Stretching is difficult this morning. I have almost 25 miles to do today.

Maxie makes a beautiful breakfast: egg-in-a-frame with ham and cheese, plus fruit, coffee, orange juice and more. It’s way more than I’m used to eating, but it’s all just so good that I can’t really stop. I need to get going, though, so I say goodbye, grab my bag and head out, trying not to let Maxie see how much I’m limping.

My right heel is killing me, and every step is a knife. It hurt like this a bit yesterday morning, but I walked it off after a while. Today, though, it’s so much worse. I make it just a few hundred yards to the main road out of town when I remember the Non-Aspirin Pain Reliever I’d taken from Tim and Kara’s medicine cabinet for my headache. I’m in pain and freaking out a bit as I struggle to get my backpack off and find the pills. I hear a small ping and discover I’ve just lost the little New York State pin my friend CC had given me. I hope that’s not a bad sign.

Seriously, what is wrong with me? Why don’t I just quit, turn around and admit defeat, spend another relaxing day at Maxie’s and find a way home? This whole thing is ill-considered and poorly planned, and a perfect example of one of my worst traits. I never know when to stop and give up, pushing beyond safety and sanity – and to what end? I make myself sick from work and stress. I lose sleep over useless labor. I fight for dead relationships. I stick to failed ideals. The sign of my failure is not that I stop here, but that I put my backpack on and push ahead. I am too foolish, too stubborn to quit. I wonder what I’d do if I got stuck out here in the farmland…

I will say this: it is beautiful here. I’m on a quiet country road, with rolling fields and solid farmhouses, the light still long through the trees. My feet hurt so much that I have to stop often, usually crossing the road to a sunny rock on which to sit and stretch a little. At one point I find myself in an open field by a frozen stream and a few geese. I’m a man in a suit doing yoga stretches in the middle of nowhere. It’s kinda sweet here…

I'm in a field!


My heel starts hurting less but my left hip is really feeling tight and weird. As I approach the town of Chester I decide to hit up the Large Drugstore Chain Store for some ibuprofen and new insoles for my boots, and to see if there’s anything else that will help. (But not Tiger Balm Brand Balm for Not-Tigers… I fucking hate the smell of that stuff.) I’m looking for Arnica or Muscle Miracle Snake Oil™ or something, but just ended up getting a small pack of Epsom Salts for tonight’s bath. Outside I manage to lose my last Farmer’s Market apple in the street while fitting in my new insoles, and I swear I’m ready to cry over it.

The next little town I get to is Goshen, and it’s not one of the depressing developments I’ve been through so many times already, but a lovely village with plenty of historic architecture. I walk down slate sidewalks between two stone churches facing each other like old friends. I’m feeling better but still moving slowly, so I stop at the local library for a while. After convincing them to let me use the Public Computers, I sit and check my email for the first time in two days, and I chat with a couple of friends. I also check out more thoroughly the terrain for today, and it looks pretty steep as I get into Wurtsboro this evening… damn.

I’m worried that sitting for half an hour is going to stiffen up my legs, but I’m surprised to feel fine as I get up to go. I’ve taken some ibuprofen which has probably kicked in by now, but honestly I think getting out of my head and talking to friends has done wonders for my spirits. Actually, I haven’t felt this good since I was in Midtown Manhattan the day I began.

I’m already hungry after that huge breakfast but I don’t pass anywhere to eat on my way out of Goshen, and I don’t really want to turn back, with all the time I’ve wasted this morning. Back on the country road I find a tree stump and cough down some horribly dry banana bread I had bought the day before. (I miss my apple!) A hundred yards up the road, though, there’s a surprise Strip Mall Oasis with a sandwich shop and a dentist and not much else. I get a club sandwich and some green tea and write for a little while, fully aware of how much I’m dawdling today.

I’m back on long stretches of nothing for most of the afternoon, a good 12 miles of emptiness and a lot of it uphill. Once again, there are no people on the streets or sidewalks, and I’m struggling with Sympathy for the Suburbs. What’s it like to live out here? Mostly I discover an irrational hatred for prefab plastic mailboxes.

In some small town I notice an old graveyard and from it an amazing view of the valley and just how high I’ve climbed today. I’m enjoying the day but I’m getting really worn out with these steep roads. I have been thinking about quitting or cheating since this morning’s panic, and when I spy a taxi stopped at an intersection I mentally take down the number.

View from the graveyard


Behind the taxi are three school buses full of children coming home from school, each surrounded by an almost tangible buzz of yelling and joking and wailing. As this odd pilgrim marches past, one kid shouts out the window at me, “What’s up, Bill Cosby?!?” What the hell…? It’s so ridiculous – is it my glasses? How do they even know who Bill Cosby is?* I have to laugh, and promptly forget the taxi’s number.

As the day starts winding down I’m climbing up into the woods again. It’s steep here, yes, but the middle of the day was sort of worse to walk, with its long stretches of road counted step by step. These climbs are rather beautiful, and I’m once again smitten with the golden afternoon light. Perhaps this is the point of Beauty, I think. Beauty makes us forget the worries of the past or the future, and makes us marvel at the present. The difficult is suddenly possible, and all seems Good and Right. Suddenly the world is an amazing place, and it is our duty to Create, to reflect beauty back to the beautiful.

My last 4 miles into Wurtsboro seems just as steep as I feared, or at least this first part is. I don’t actually mind the climbs, since they use different muscles than the hard slap walk of the straight road, and they give me focus and intent. Pretty soon I see signs warning trucks of the descent, so it may be easier soon…

However, as I walk the last mile down, the shoulder is broken and rough, and all the late afternoon beauty is gone. I find myself walking an ugly road straight into a dead town. I pass 6 restaurants, all closed, and I’m starving. It’s Monday night in a Ghost Town. All the action is at the one stoplight at the end, just in sight of my inn. “Danny’s Bar” could be a Barnsider Redux, but I’m not in the mood for people.

Instead I check into my weird ugly cabin and try to settle. It’s the opposite of last night’s comfort, though – a linoleum tomb of the cheapest manufacture. Everything from the vinyl blinds to the two-dollar coffee-maker to the petroleum bedspread resonates with an aura of Numbness and Despair. Hope dies here. Also, there’s no tub.

I grab some awful Chinese food from across the street – weirdly I’d been craving Wonton Soup for hours – but it’s mostly inedible… Soon I find myself sitting on the kitchen counter, reading Rousseau and drinking black-tea-infused Moonshine while I soak my feet in a sink full of hot water and Epsom Salt. I end up watching the first half of Goodfellas and the last half of Annie Hall on TV before I pass out for the night.

*2015 edit: Well, they probably do now

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