Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Overdue Update!

As you can imagine, a lot has happened since the last time that I posted...I will probably forget to include half of it but here's a quick run-down of the goings on for the last 4 weeks!

At around the same time of my last post we met a couple at the RV Park we were staying at that had some products (pool mastic and concrete crack repair) they were wanting installed at various residences in the area.  The money was decent and the work wasn't so much difficult as it was long and tedious (not to mention hot being out in the sun all day!).  We stayed there with them for a couple of weeks (procuring a conversion van in the process given the fact that my knee was not, and is still not, in top working order).  There were, however, some issues with drinking and fighting (between them on a daily basis) that caused us to eventually decide we could not stay any longer and maintain any semblance of sanity.  We took what little money we had and left, first heading down to Austin and San Antonio to see if we might want to stay there to work instead, then ultimately deciding to take the chance and head straight for Phoenix, AZ.

We made it (with nothing left to spare in the cash department) and have been here for a week now.  We have been sleeping in our van (which has a convenient couch-style back seat that folds down into a bed)...alternating between truck stops and Walmart parking lots. 

So far we have been lucky enough to make just enough money responding to various Craigslist Gig ads to keep some gas in the van and food in our stomachs.  When I say "just enough" I mean "no more than what's needed on a daily basis".  We daily get down to completely broke, then we get a call back on a job we requested and we're set for another day.  It's a very stressful way to live, not knowing when/if you're going to make it from one minute to the next.

At the moment we are attempting to fix the van (it's emitting a high pitched squeal that seems to be coming from the power steering pump) with a little help from a gentleman we met while helping a lady replace a couple of blown tires on her horse trailer yesterday.  Right now it's our livelihood so we are putting the last of our money (again) into it and hopefully it will be fixed when we're done!

I will make another post at a later time with more details and some pictures as well but right now I'm being summoned to make a run to the auto parts store...oh, what fun!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Local News - Dallas, TX and Surrounding Areas

This happened two days ago...Waxahachie, TX is about 12 miles south of the RV Park we are staying at...we could see the smoke plume coming from the plant.  The wind was taking the smoke northwest so thankfully we could not smell it and therefore were most likely not breathing in any toxic materials.  At least I hope we weren't!

Wild fires in the Bastrop, TX area have started up again...we aren't near there, thankfully.

Will Work for Tent Site!

The verdict came back yesterday that Mike could work with the maintenance guy here at the RV Park to cover our stay.  It appears that each day's work is equal to 2 nights...he worked yesterday leaf-blowing and today he is...you guessed it...leaf blowing again.  I tried to procure a job of my own to do but nobody here is letting me work...some BS about needing to stay off my feet so my knee can heal. 

Ok, I know it's not BS but that doesn't mean I have to like it!

I am bored out of my ever-loving mind and am itching to get out of here.  There's nothing to see (except RVs, dirt, rocks, a few trees, and mostly-brown grass) and nothing to do (unless walking to the dollar store is your idea of a good time). 

A few random things I've learned during my stay here:

Pasta Sides (brand name) require 2 cups of liquid to cook - our cooking pot only holds 2 cups of liquid...if you fill it to the brim...leaving absolutely no room for the product.  Not to mention most of them require milk in addition to water, which is great if you HAVE milk...but that's not easy to keep on hand when you're minus a refrigerator.  Fail.

It is very difficult to find products that feed one or two, with no leftovers that need to be refrigerated.  You want to make pasta?  You're going to have to buy a whole jar of pasta sauce and then refrigerate the leftovers (and have a 3/4 bag of pasta to store, as well).  This leaves only one option...canned food.  One can of anything fits nicely in our pot...any less is not enough to feed us both, any more will overflow the pot.

Did I mention that I am sick of canned food?  I mean really, these people have no idea how to cook.  Plus there's no real nutritional value to most food found in a can.  The cows I've seen on the side of the road are starting to look pretty damn tasty right about now!

Even areas that boast 'warm' winters can get cold at night, which isn't so bad if you have a nice warm bed to curl up in at night but when you're sleeping outdoors it presents a problem.  I will say that if we weren't actively traveling things would be a bit easier.  Items that keep you warm are notoriously heavy...that's no issue if you have one set place you're camped out in for the duration of the cold season but when you're having to carry the stuff from one place to another every other day it becomes difficult, if not downright impossible.

We are apparently fairly likeable people...some of the folks here at the RV Park are already trying to keep us.  We have been offered the use of a small, beat-down trailer for the low price of $245 a month plus electric.  As tempting as that sounds I think we will have to pass...especially given the fact that even if we wanted to stay we don't have jobs and don't have $245 plus electric.  Granted, we could get jobs but we'd be walking at LEAST 4 miles (probably more like 8 miles) each day to get to and from an area populated enough to actually have work available.

Not to mention I really don't want to stay here.

My knee is feeling better, not 100 percent but definitely not as bad as when we first got here.  It's made a snap-crackle-pop sound a couple of times which has seemed to help...it appears my legs swelling a few days ago may have made it susceptible to slipping out of place.  I just hope it heals up and doesn't keep happening.

Our plan is to be back on the road tomorrow, either by foot or by way of a ride that may or may not come through for us...we shall see!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Everything's Bigger in Texas!

Here we are, still in Texas and pretty much at a standstill for the time being.

Since my last post we continued on down the road toward Dallas when I realized that my legs were both swollen and my knee was badly hurting.  Unfortunately we were not in a place where we could stop so we searched out a campground that was 3 miles away from us (we had already walked 5 miles south and we had to actually backtrack some, then head west, to get to the place). 

You would think that of the thousands of vehicles that were passing us SOMEONE would stop to see if we needed help since I was obviously limping and sporting an ace bandage...but not one did.  Besides that one trucker that we met our first day here nobody has offered any help at all.

We did make it to the campground, which is mostly an RV Park with long-term guests, that has a few tent camping sites near the street...where we have been set up the last two nights.  The people here are pretty nice but money is running out fast, my knee is still in bad shape, and we're not close enough to the city (or anything, really) to find side jobs to replenish our funds. 

As a last ditch effort we offered to work around the campground to cover the cost of our stay here...the manager just got back from vacation last night and we asked this morning...we are still waiting to find out if she can get approval from the owner to do it or not.  If the answer is no we will have to hit the road today, injured knee or not, and find a patch of woods we can stealthily set up in for free.

Mike is more worried than I am...most likely because he is frustrated with his seeming inability to take care of me the way he wants to right now.  He also doesn't want to put me in a 'bad' situation which is why he has been choosing campgrounds and hotels to bed down in as opposed to random places off the road.  I knew when I signed up for this that those were possibilities, however, and I chose to do it anyway.

The way I see it...things will work out...not necessarily the way we expect or even want at the time but the way it's SUPPOSED to.  Right now this trip is an unfinished puzzle; not everything makes sense but that's just because we can't see the whole picture yet.  With a little patience and perseverence the reasons with become clearer!

So what's bigger in Texas?  Bigger problems, bigger pains, and bigger egos that don't allow most of the people here the heart to do anything to help anyone other than themselves.  At least that's what we've experienced so far...we hear that things are better the further from Dallas you get but obviously we're not making any distance right now to be able to find out.  In time, I suppose...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Big Changes!

A lot can change in a couple of days! 

Since my last post we left Elizabethton, TN, did laundry at a laundromat (talked to a kind Reverend there who, without being asked, gave us a small donation to help us out), then hiked 10 miles, got a ride from an older religious man, hiked another 8 miles, and finally got a ride the rest of the way to Greeneville, TN from a nice lady who's husband is also a hiker. We holed up in a cheap hotel room for the night there. 

The next day we hiked another 12 or so miles before reaching a gas station in Mosheim, TN where the Greyhound bus makes a once a day appearance to pick up people who want to purchase tickets at the Knoxville, TN station.  Not having much luck outrunning the cold snap bearing down on the state we opted to hop on the bus (waiting over 5 hours at the gas station for it to arrive...thankfully we had a lot of nice people to talk to during that time...the gas station attendant, an older gentleman, and a nice lady who gave us a few dollars to help us out, to mention a few) and purchased one-way tickets from Knoxville to Dallas, TX.  The bus left at 12:15am EST in the morning and we finally arrived here at 5:15pm CST today (or yesterday by the time I finish this post).

I'm not sure which is worse...walking miles upon miles with 30+ pounds on my back or being cramped on a bus, trying to sleep in uncomfortable positions while being woken up every hour at various stops for the duration of an 18 hour trip.

To top things off we ended up in a crappy part of town (south Dallas, TX in the DeSoto area) where everyone we've come in contact with has told us that this is no place to be walking around.  Unfortunately our current destination goal (Austin, TX) means we HAVE to walk through it...unless we are able to catch a quick ride out of here.

When we get to Austin, TX we intend on picking up a few side jobs to replenish our funds, which are getting on the low side given our bus fare to get down here.  Hopefully within a reasonable amount of time we are able to do so and our plan is to at some point purchase a cheap mini-van so we can drive to various locations we want to see and THEN hike as opposed to doing the whole thing on foot.  It's seeming that the way we are doing things now is hurting our ability to do that so we're taking it as a lesson learned and making the necessary adjustments to our plans.

I am not sure what the morning will bring but so far it seems that when things seem bleak and without chance of getting better it turns around and works out the way it's supposed to in the end.  We have had to put a lot of faith in that with each passing day but so far we have not been let down!

Tonight we are in a decent hotel room at a more than reasonable rate thanks to a trucker we met at a local waffle house while getting coffee and trying to figure out our next course of action. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

From too much to too little?

This past Sunday morning we were given a lift to Damascus, VA to pick up the Appalachian Trail by a nice couple from Danville, VA.  We arrived there mid-afternoon and set to getting last minute supplies before hitting the trail. 

We ended up hiking about 4.5 miles down the AT (crossing the Virginia/Tennessee border) - halfway through the hike it proceeded to start raining but there was nowhere to set up camp so we were forced to press on until nightfall, when we finally found a place semi-suitable to bed down for the night.  Everything was damp/wet so starting a real fire was impossible...as it was we were barely able to find enough 'dry' tinder to make dinner in our hobo stove.  I woke up several times that night cold despite temps being in the 50's (40's after factoring in the wind-chill).  So much for the 20 degree rating my Coleman sleeping bag boasts to be!

The next morning we hiked another 5.5 miles before stopping at one of the shelters on the AT, where we set up at one of the camp sites in the vicinity.  We gathered some water from a nearby stream to boil for food - which worked out well.  That night it was a little easier to find tinder for the hobo stove but we were still unable to start a real fire.  Another cold and restless night ensued and it was becoming difficult to keep a positive attitude about the whole experience.

We woke up to more rain and damp gear - thankfully the sun came out just before we started hiking again, which helped a little.  5 miles later we took a detour off the trail into a small town called Shady Valley to re-supply our food and water.  It was a 3.5 mile trek on the road to get there...nothing but a blinking light, small restaurant, and general store that catered to bikers as opposed to hikers.  Most of the local folk did not appear to be friendly to outsiders - thankfully the ladies running the restaurant (Jessica and Logan) were really nice, brewed a mean cup (or three) of coffee, and made the best burgers we've had in a very long time! 

After eating and re-supplying Jessica gave us a ride to another AT trail-head (yes, we took a small short-cut but we DID hike those extra miles into town which I viewed as a good excuse...haha), where we hiked about another mile before finding a site to set up camp.  For the first time since hitting the AT we were finally able to start a fire, relax, and talk without the stress of everything being damp and cold.  Of course I froze my hind-quarters off that night (to the sound of cows mooing in the distance at a Shady Valley farm) - and when we woke up yesterday morning our rainfly lines were pulled out of the ground as if something (most likely a bear) had come through camp and tripped on them.  I didn't hear anything and I'm still in one piece so for that I am thankful.

In sitting and talking, though, we decided that it might be in our best interests to get off the AT and start trying to find a way to get south faster on the road as opposed to the trail.  There were no good views the whole time we were on it, it is cold and forcasted to frost this coming weekend, and I am currently sick with a cold.  So we backtracked the mile hike to the road and started walking.  About 5 miles down we got a ride into Elizabethton, TN (we had another 13 or so miles to go before reaching the town line and probably another 5-10 miles before getting to the part of town where anything was) - where we remain this morning.  We invested in a hotel room so we would have a warm, dry place to sleep...plus I really wanted a bath!

I am sick, sore, tired, and a little worried about how we're going to get to a warmer climate before we freeze to death.  I have faith, however, that things will work out.  Despite all the hell we've been through over the past week and a half a lot of good has happened, too.  We've met a lot of great people and things have fallen into place when we've needed them to.

We are at the point now where we are re-evaluating what we want from this trek - we've gone from too much society to too little.  I think ultimately we have decided that we want to see the country but we don't want to suffer unnecessarily in order to do so.  Sticking to roads as opposed to trails will allow us to be closer to basic necessities like food and water...while also affording us the opportunity to catch a lift here and there between stints of hiking on foot.

Hopefully it will also allow me more opportunities to post to the blog and get better photos of the various landscapes!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Week 1 So Far

It is night 5 and for the first time since beginning this journey I have found both the time and internet connection to be able to post to this blog.

I am exhausted at the moment but given I do not know when I will be able to post again I wanted to jump on here and let everyone know we are doing well so far.  The rain the last few days held us at bay for a little while but it gave us time to sharpen our outdoor living skills in camp as well as pinpoint trouble spots in some of the gear we originally left with.  For instance, today I traded in my cotton tank tops for some 100 percent Polyester tops...cotton and water are not a good combination when you're struggling to keep dry in rainy conditions.  We also invested in some better shoes to help make the trek as pain-free as humanly possible!

We are currently in Danville, VA...we got here partly from hiking (I would say about 25 miles total) and partly from hitching rides with various good-hearted strangers.  I don't have enough time to get into detail here but I am keeping a pretty in-depth written journal that will hopefully be shared in a published book after we finish trekking the perimeter of the country.

Tomorrow we have a ride to the Appalachian Trail (Southwest VA) after which we plan to hike the entire southern portion of the trail down to Springer Mountain in GA.  I am not sure how much (if any) internet connection we will have during that time but will update everyone as often as possible and continue to keep the written journal going.

I will finish by saying that I feel blessed to have met so many wonderful people since we left Virginia Beach this past Tuesday morning - it is good to know that people like them still exist in society today.  I also want to add that while there have already been some rough spots in the journey (aching muscles - particularly my hip - rain that kept us from making any progress for two days and left everything in camp damp - to name a couple) I feel happy, free, and harbor no regrets for the decison to do what we are doing!

Here are some photos taken so far (most taken just outside of Clarksville, VA near Occaneechee State Park, where we camped for 3 nights during the rain - one cool thing about the damp weather was the appearance of various forms of fungi in the campground which, as you'll notice, I saw as a photo opportunity!):

Friday, September 16, 2011


Today I visited my youngest four children for the last time in what will probably be a year, if not longer.  I could have hugged and kissed them forever and never gotten tired of it. 

Of all the things I am looking at facing over the coming months I can think of nothing more difficult that leaving behind my children...I will still be able to call them on a fairly regular basis but nothing compares to being face to face and holding the ones you love.  I know in my heart that they will be well cared for and safe where they are at but it is still a challenge to let go and trust.

My thoughts are with my babies...I am not an incredibly religous person in the typical sense but my prayers and love go out to them, tonight.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Initial Reactions

As the time to leave draws closer we have begun to share our plans with friends, family, and others we come into contact with.  Those close to us have typically responded with an even mix of skepticism and support, while those who don't know us well (or at all) have reacted with disbelief and sometimes questioning of our sanity.  Only a very few have expressed the desire to actually do what we are doing...but because of ties to people and material posessions they feel they cannot walk away.

All generalities aside, I have most been affected by the subtle differences between how people react to Mike undertaking this journey versus how they react to ME undertaking it.  A woman making the decision to trek across the country seems to make a whole lot less sense to people than a man doing so...because of this my reasons for making such a decision have been questioned, as well as my ability to actually follow through and survive the experience.  Most commonly it has been suggested that I am doing this because I know it's something Mike has wanted to do as opposed to doing so of my own free will.

Let me squash that suggestion immediately...while I do know that Mike has wanted to undertake a journey like this for practically his entire life, what is not as well known is that I have had the same desire for most of MY life.  I have been a lot less vocal about it than he has to those we come in contact with but, of course, have privately shared my thoughts with him on the subject numerous times over the past two years that we've known each other.

My first inclination was anger..how dare anyone question my intentions or my strength.  My second (after a cool-down period) was understanding...this society is still bred to view women as physically and emotionally weaker than men, regardless of numerous attempts to change it.  The fact is women ARE physically and emotionally different than men...and that's the key word...DIFFERENT.  It doesn't mean we aren't capable of facing and handling difficult challenges to our bodies and minds, we just have alternate ways of doing so.  Ultimately, however, I feel that this fact has not been fully realized by the general population because most women don't do what it takes to PROVE it.  Instead, they stay within the confines of the expectations this society has of them and accept that it's all they are capable of. 

I refuse to be one of those women...I know I am capable of greater things and am intent on discovering just what those things are!

6 days and counting...

Friday, September 9, 2011

Where I Lay My Head is Home...

Our new Hennessy Hammocks arrived yesterday - the subsequent set-up results can be seen in the above photo. I am thrilled - they are very comfortable and incredibly easy to put up and take down!  In the 'needs' department having a place to sleep ranks right up there with food and water so I feel a lot more calm and confident now that they're here.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Introduction

My name is April but I am more recently referred to as A.J. - a nickname given to me by my partner.  I am 33 years old and currently reside in Virginia Beach, VA - Occupation - City Manager of a Photography company in Norfolk, VA.  I am the mother of six children who, due to the combination of divorce and unfortunate circumstances, are not currently living with me.  They are happy, healthy, and safe with family, however, and this I am very grateful for. 

Circumstances being what they are I have been forced to re-evaluate my life, my beliefs, my desires, and my direction.  At first a lot of time and effort went into trying to put myself in a position to care for my children alone after separating from my husband.  The system was involved and I put my everything into doing what I was told and attempted to begin a career after years of being a stay-at-home mom.  When it came down to it, however, I was not able to do what needed to be done (make enough money) in the amount of time I was given to do so.  Instead of helping me achieve that goal the system failed me as I'm sure they do so many others.

So here I am now, a forever changed human being, in search of who I am and where I want to go from here.  I am not content with solidarity and stagnation, I know there is something better out there and am intent on finding it.  In my quest to discover myself I have been honored to meet a wonderful man (Mike), who is my best friend and the love of my life.  We met two years ago and have grown closer with each passing day - I know of nobody else who would understand or be willing to join me on the journey we are about to embark on - nor anyone I would WANT to.

I am now four days away from unemployment and a week and a half away from total freedom - walking away from 'everything' in search of all that has been lost by modern humankind.  This blog has been created to document the journey and spiritual transformation that I know will transpire over the coming months/years of backpacking the country - it is my hope that it will invoke thought, hope, strength, and action in those that take the time to read my experiences.