Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Summertime Walk Along the Tracks.

It was a day of adventure. Overdue adventure. The plan has been in my mind for a couple years, but today I took action. I set out in the morning to take a long walk down the tracks.

Railroad tracks cut through Kennett Square. They go to West Chester in one direction, and disappear into Maryland in the other. They are still in use, but trains are infrequent and the goods they truck don't go far. The tracks can be accessed at Broad Street or Center - on Union the sidewalk goes over a bridge.

I started out with a coffee, and put on my hiking boots. I had two Peanut Butter Jellys in my backpack, and a yogurt so stuffed with oats that the consistency was lumpy clay.

The goal for the day was Oxford; about 18 miles down the tracks. I had no way to gauge if my legs were up for it, but I wanted to give it a whirl. The goal was a physical challenge and a curiosity to see where I live from the hidden perspective of the train tracks.

A cool morning fed seamlessly into a hot muggy day. Grasshoppers leapt the tracks, and summer sounds pulsed like a heartbeat. I was made to squint at midday when emerging from the woods.

I saw wide open spaces and some houses barely standing. I crossed back roads where I've never set rubber of any sort. I saw a thousand great places for a tiny house, because that's mostly all I see now. I see places to park a van for a good night's sleep. I haven't lived in a van for several years, but these secret spots always call out to me. The same is now true for tiny owner-built houses. My brain finds a way to put them everywhere.

I walked past the abandoned quarry in Avondale. A sign claims a large fine for any who dare to swim. A shotgun blast to the sign disagrees. A pavilion is so overgrown that a closer look would require bushwhacking or thorny cuts. I ate the oaty yogurt and pulled the last sip of coffee.

I walked above a particularly industrious mushroom house. That's what my area is famous for. Mushrooms. A pile of manure eight feet high was elongated and pressed into rows. From the end of the rows, dirty dump trucks are filled all day long.

I walked past where people sleep. I only suspect, but really I know. I'm familiar with the ways and means, and some places here are used for stealing sleep. I've seldom seen homeless folks and restless travelers here. We're too far outside the city. The presence of those with less can be felt along the tracks. Also the presence of destructive children and heavy drinkers. The tracks aren't well policed, and they're a fast path to the middle of nothing.

I resisted the urge to check GPS. I wanted an authentic something. I wanted to melt into the moment without looking at a reminder of the bigger world.

I checked the GPS to see if I should quit. My feet were starting to hurt, and my leg developed what I was finally willing to call pain. I was a notch past the halfway point, so I kept moving forward.

The railroad ties were uneven, as is their nature, and half the distance was covered with fist-sized gravel. The walking was mostly a challenge and vigilance was required to avoid a twisted ankle or similar. The final two hours of the walk were level on the ground, but straight downhill for me. A few miles from Oxford, my steps became tiny. My left hip felt like a hinge needing oil. I used my right leg pretty much as normal, but tossed the left one forward like a long sack of rocks. As is my custom, I ran out of water.

I entered the town of Oxford at a lame crawl, and drank about a gallon of water in the bathroom of Oxford Feed and Lumber. The walk took just longer than five hours. I took another nine hours to cross the street. I sat under a shade tree. I removed my shoes like I was pulling the blanket off a victim.

My next call was important. I dialed up Mom Cell and asked for a ride home. I only hoped that she was home and she was able to assist. Plan B was to live under that tree forever.

Thirty minutes later, a minivan pulled up. Both of my folks came to get me, and inside the black minivan was ice cold temps. My feet were sore for days, and I slept like a body under water. The sun cooked my back and left side, but left the rest of me alone. I got banged around a bit and it made me feel good.

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