Taking A Walk

Walking Down US Highway 11 – Winchester, Virginia to Louisiana

Taking A Walk header image 1

The Visa Card

January 5th, 2010 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I used a Visa card extensively while taking a walk. My wife didn’t like this. “How can you use a credit card when you are buying something that cost two dollars?” was her usual disdainful question. I understood her dislike for this, but I still used the Visa card.

Every day I bought several things that cost two or three dollars. I would stop in a gas station, use the restroom, and then buy coffee and maybe a snack as well. Those calories kept me going for a couple of hours.

I didn’t like to use cash for several reasons. First, I saw cash as something for emergencies, something to use at the rare places that didn’t take Visa. I wanted to have cash on hand in case of trouble that required a person to help me on the side of the road. I am thankful that I never had such an occasion, but if I did, I wanted to be able to repay someone money for their assistance.

Next, cash means change. That means lots of heavy coins jingling in your pocket, making noise and bouncing against your leg. I carried enough stuff – probably too much stuff – in my pockets already. I didn’t want to carry any more. And yes, change in my pocket bouncing against me legs was  painful. Please understand that I walked 15 to 20 miles a day. That is a lot of steps and if a pocketful of change bounces against your leg every step, well it can be painful.

Looking back on the walk, I found a surprise benefit to using a Visa card for almost everything – memories. I was sitting at my desk in Reston a month after completing the trip. I was reading my Visa card bill to ensure that I wasn’t paying for something I didn’t use (that has happened before). Each little gas station, each little store, each restaurant I visited appeared on my Visa card. Memories, oh the memories. That was a great experience and a great surprise. The Visa card bill was a trail of events on the walk. I loved it.

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Pearl River

January 4th, 2010 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

I attended high school in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana. This remained my home while I attended college. During these seven years one source of confusion in my life (I had many) was the concept of Pearl River. While taking a walk, I traversed all my Pearl River demons. Allow me to try to explain.

My high school, Loranger High School in Loranger, Louisiana, played sports against Pearl River High School in the town of Pearl River, Louisiana. I greatly disliked the kids from that high school. We beat them badly in football, lost to them badly in basketball, and played about even in baseball. Hence, the town of Pearl River was a well known concept to me. I understood that even though I didn’t like it.

I didn’t walk through Pearl River, Louisiana, but skirted the edge of it. I was a little disappointed.

The other “Pearl River”s confused me.

There is a river named The Pearl River. It separates Louisiana and Mississippi on part of Louisiana’s eastern border and part of Mississippi’s western border. Route 11 crosses the Pearl River. At that point, however, Route 11 is concurrent with Interstate 59. Hence, I couldn’t walk over the river, but had to ride. What a shame.

There is a county in Mississippi called Pearl River County. As expected, part of this county is bordered by the Pearl River. I walked through Pearl River County as Route 11 traverses it.

And then, there is a community college, formerly a junior college, called Pearl River Community College (PRCC) in the town of Poplarville, Mississippi. The Wikipedia page for PRCC is here (the nice photo of a building at PRCC was taken by me). The official web page for PRCC is here. PRCC is of course in Pearl River County near the Pearl River. Simple, right? What always confused me about this college was that lots of boys from my high school and other local high schools played sports or tried to play sports at this college. They always referred to it as “playing over at Pearl River.” That made no sense as Pearl River was a high school. “No,” they told me, “it was a junior college over in Mississippi.” What?

I walked right in front of PRCC as it sits on Route 11. It is a fine looking place. Maybe one day I could teach…

So, there you have it. The instances of Pearl River, at least as I know them, are:

  1. The town of Pearl River, Louisiana
  2. The actual river called The Pearl River
  3. The county in Mississippi – Pearl River County
  4. and the community college – Pearl River Community College.

You have no idea how comforting it is to me to have all this straight in my mind after all these years of confusion.

Now, while writing this post, I learned that there is a Pearl River in China. It is 2,000 km long and…too much for me.

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What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

January 3rd, 2010 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

Things go wrong out on the road while taking a walk. Here are a few of the things that happened to me.

Get bit by something – This occurred near Harrisonburg, Virginia. My lower leg turned red and swelled. Pain shot from my foot up to my hip on every step for two half days.

Sunburn – Yes, I wore a great big hat, a long-sleeve shirt with a big collar, and used lots of sun screen. Still, somehow I was burn on some days.

Cramps and diarrhea – This was no fun. You don’t know how relieved I was to reach the motel on this afternoon. I never understood why this occurred. I once thought that it was too much coffee or something like that, but I had much more to drink on other days without problems.

Blisters on your feet – Oh boy, this was a real killer. The outside of one foot develops a blister. I shift my walking to take the pressure off the blister. The shifted walking is unnatural and causes another blister on another part of the foot. Now I have two blisters and every step hurts.

A tooth falls out of your mouth – This happened 48 hours before starting the walk in earnest. See one result below.

Visits to the dentist – my dentist in Reston had to pull out the root of the tooth that fell out of my mouth. I had headaches for most of the ensuing week. I eventually read a piece of paper that the dentist gave me on my way out of his office. It explained that when having such a procedure performed, “plan on taking it easy for a few days.”

Blinding dust – A tractor trailer flies by, throws dust in your eyes, and you have trouble seeing the rest of the day.

Flat tires -These occurred on my bicycle (see a separate post on this one).

Caught in a thunder storm – I can walk in the rain. Blinding rain is another matter. It seems the only place to stand in heavy rain is under a big, tall tree, but there is this fear I have that the tree will be hit by lightening.

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What did You Learn about Yourself?

January 2nd, 2010 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

One of the the rare questions people asked me was:

What did you learn about yourself?

I had to think about that one for a while. Here are a few things I learned and re-learned about myself.

So, I learned:

Why I became an engineer – I am fascinated how things are built and how things are put together and how things fit together. I studied and studied the structures both natural and man-made that I saw along the way. Engineers built most of those things.

That I am not dead yet – I was 49 when I started walking and 50 when I stopped. I walked a thousand miles at age 50, and most of the miles I walked alone. Both physically and mentally, I am still quite alive.

That I love old things – I am high tech and up to date on current culture (web 2.0, blogs, social networking, the latest technology from the leading makers in the world). Still, I love old things that have stood the test of time. There must be a message in there somewhere about myself.

There is so much that I did not know – This was a big one. I thought I knew a lot, but there is so much history and culture and buildings and nature in America than I ever imagined.

That I like people more than I thought I did – I found myself wanting to talk to almost everyone I saw in small towns.

That I don’t fear strangers – I met many strangers on the road. I cannot recall a time when I feared someone who was walking up to me. I just always figured that they wanted to chat. Many people told me to be careful and watch out for those dangerous people in such and such a place. When I told them that everyone was nice to me and that I didn’t have any problems, they told me, “well, it wasn’t like that so many years ago. You would have been attacked for sure back then.” Hmm, never happened.

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The Most Interesting Thing…

January 1st, 2010 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

One of the common questions people ask is:

What is the most interesting thing you saw?

First, I am one of those people who are thrown by extreme questions such as what is “the most” or “the least” and such. I freeze physically while I start ranking things in my mind trying to find the most or the least. I have learned a little better to deal with such questions and I translate them into something like:
What are some of the more interesting things you saw?

Even given this important (to me) rewording of the question, I usually went blank. What was interesting? What did grab my attention? Blank. Rats.

Given time and several looks back through my photographs and blog entries, I have a list of some (not all, as I reserve the right to add to the list) of the more interesting things I saw while taking a walk.

Drive-In Movies Theaters – I thought these were extinct, especially in the mid-Atlantic where the weather is too cold for the theater to stay open little more than six months of the year. Yet, I saw a half a dozen of these places.

Water Towers – Towns put odd things on their water towers. “Sock Town” was a unique one. It is unfortunate that most water towers in small towns are covered with rust. I had a special interest in double water towers. I only saw these side-by-side towers in two places.

Fences – Do you know how many different ways there are to keep livestock in one area and out of another? Plenty.

Post Offices – Most small-town post offices came out of one of three pages in some U.S. Postal Service blueprint book. What an eyesore on the American landscape. Surely they could have done better. Still, their were a handful of wonderful, unique post offices on the way.

Churches – The old ones; the ones built before 1800.

Little buildings – There is something about a small building that fascinates me. Complete, standalone buildings that are about 10′ by 10′ or less. It seems that I could lock myself in one of those and write a book or three.

Abandoned old buildings – These were mostly old stores and houses. They were everywhere. I find it amazing how vegetation grows inside, outside, on top of, and straight through these old places.

Restored cars – Cadilacs mostly.

Old private colleges – These look like Hollywood movie sets of the perfect, quant college. I had to remind myself that the students and faculty there probably feel a lot of pressure and anxiety everyday of the year. Some examples include Emory&Henry, Tusculum, and Stillman. These all started as small Bible colleges.

Small Bible Colleges – I was surprised to see these. They have one small building that used to be a motel or a doctor’s office or something. There are probably 20 full-time students and two or three part-time teachers. This is how the old private colleges started. Maybe one day these small Bible colleges will be like Emory&Henry, Tusculum, and Stillman.

Small Colleges – These are public colleges, but are small. Roanoke College in Roanoke County, Virginia comes to mind. Like the old private colleges, they look like a Hollywood movie set of the quant college.

Unusual animals – I saw a few llamas, one emu, and two catfish.

Libraries – I saw big and small, old and new. It is fascinating how people store the knowledge we have accumulated.

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Great Meals: Southbound Bagels

December 31st, 2009 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

An earlier post related how I often ate a bagel for breakfast. Those were the bagels that motels buy from grocery stores. I have no idea how those grocery stories cook those thing they call bagels. They are round with a hole in the middle and are brown, so they do look like bagels. Looks, however, can be deceiving and in the case of grocery-store bagels, looks are deceiving.

While I was approaching Hattiesburg, Mississippi, my nephew, who lives there, told me about a little place on Route 11 as it passes through the old downtown area. Next to the railroad tracks is Southbound Bagels. I walked through downtown Hattiesburg during the morning and made sure to find this place. I am glad that I did.

They actually cook bagels here – just like you are supposed to. You mix a good dough, form the bagel, boil it, then bake it. These are real bagels. It is hard for me to emphasize the difference between grocery-store imitation bagels and real bagels. Let me repeat, the Southbound Bagel place in Hattiesburg has real bagels.

Three weeks of eating awful things disguised as bagels accentuated the goodness of Southbound’s bagels.

My older brother and I stopped in for a cup of coffee and a bagel. After finishing, I ordered a second bagel and had a refill of coffee. I considered a third bagel and a fourth, but training in social etiquette from early childhood prevented that. Sometimes I regret the training in social etiquette that I had as a child.

When the walk was finished, I drove from Louisiana back to my home in Reston, Virginia. I exited the Interstate, wound my way through Hattiesburg, and stopped at Southbound Bagels for a cup of coffee and a couple of bagels. It was well worth the detour.

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Great Meals I didn’t Eat

December 30th, 2009 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

One of the more common questions people asked me was, “while you were passing through such-and-such town, did you eat at such-and-such’s restaurant?” About 90% of the time, my answer was, “no.”

I had a lot of great meals while taking a walk. Alas, there is only so much food a person can eat in a day, and in America we are blessed with much more than our capacity to eat.

There were three big reasons for the “no” answer. (1) The restaurant was not on Route 11. I didn’t stray far from Route 11 during the day, so if it wasn’t right in my path, I missed it. (2) I passed the restaurant at a time other than a meal time. (3) See above, there was only so much I could eat in a day.

So, here were the main great meals that I didn’t eat.

(1) Barbeque. I have no count of how many barbeque places I passed on the six southern states while taking a walk. I am only writing about the real, slow-cook, bareque places. I am not counting the places with the “bar-b-q” sign out front where they grill food quickly (not that there is anything wrong with that type of food). I usually passed these places early in the morning. They had a big smoker outside of the building or hut or shack or whatever type of structure they used for their counter and cash register. Smoke would be drifting up out of the smoker with that smell. That smell that ignited my lunch-time digestive system three or four hours before lunch. Oh, how I hated that feeling. They weren’t selling any food yet; they weren’t going to sell any food for several hours, but there they were smoking away and torturing people like me who happened to pass. I guess if you drove by in a car with your windows up you wouldn’t smell it. Those lucky people in the cars. They were safe.

(2) Hot dogs. I love hot dogs; I have always loved hot dogs. Perhaps that is a birth defect of some kind, but that is the way it is with me. Every gas station in America has one of those little machines with the hot rollers and hot dog weiners slowly turning on them. Gas stops, coffee stops, bathroom stops – common reasons for stepping inside a gas station brought the sight and odor of the cooking hot dog. Rats. Hot dogs have a bit too much fat and too many calories to be eating them three or four times a day. Rats again. This was torture to a hot dog lover like me. I am sure that lovers of fine barbecue will gasp at the thought of putting hot dogs right next to barbecue in a discussion of great food. Too bad. It fits for me.

(3) Fried anything. There is something about the smell of frying food in the south. Fried chicken is in every little town. Fried fish is in almost every little town – especially in the catfish farming areas of Alabama and Mississippi. The smell churns the stomach as much as that of slow-cooked barbecue. The reason for missing these fried meals is the same as for the barbeque: just too much of it and often at the wrong time of day.

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Peanut Butter and Jam

December 29th, 2009 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

The vast majority of motels in America today  have free breakfast. If you don’t believe me, just check the ads or look on the Internet. Some of the motels have real breakfast: see, for example, Holiday Inn Express. Most of the rest have bread, bread with sugar on it (in various guises), coffee, and juice. That isn’t much of a breakfast, but it is “free,” i.e. its cost is included in your room expense so you might as well eat some of it.

Some choices:

(1) eat the bread and bread with sugar on it (in various guises) thereby taking advantage of the money you spent on your room

(2) go next door to Hardee’s and pay $5 for something that closer resembles a real breakfast

(3) stay at a motel that has real breakfast and pay $30 for it

(4) supplement the free bread and bread with sugar on it (in various guises)

I often chose (4). I bought a jar of peanut butter and a jar of jam at Wal-Mart (where America shops) and kept it in my ice chest. I would go to the motel lobby, grab a bagel (the kind the grocery stores sell, not to be confused with real bagels), toast it in the lobby toaster, and take it back to my room. In the room, I would add my own peanut butter and jam. This provided carbodydrates (bagel), sugars (jam), and fat and protein (peanut butter).

I wouldn’t label this as the classic American breakfast. I wouldn’t label this as a nutritious breakfast. I am not sure how I would label this. I do know that it always carried me through at least ten miles of walking to a cup of coffee somewhere on the road some time in the middle of the morning.

And one more thing, the trips to Wal-Mart also brought entertainment value in addition to the food. If you aren’t in a hurry, standing in line at Wal-Mart can be entertaining.

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Where Ya’ Go’in?

December 28th, 2009 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

It was the middle of a hot day in Northern Alabama. On the opposite side of Route 11 was a lumber place. A few men were standing in a large open doorway.

One of the men called out to me, “Where Ya Go’in?”

I casually pointed in the direction I was walking and replied, “That way.”

One of the other men asked, “What city you go’in to?”

I stopped walking south and crossed the road to join the men. “I’m going to New Orleans,” I answered the previous question. I usually told people that I was heading to New Oreans. That was easier to explain than “to the end of U.S. Route 11 as it dead ends at U.S. Route 90 east of New Orleans.”

The first comment about New Orleans was, “That’s about a nine-hour drive.”

I thought a moment and concluded that New Orleans was about nine hours away by car. That was a day. I also figured quickly that New Orleans was about four weeks walking distance (which was pretty accurate). It is funny how much faster driving is than walking, and how I didn’t realize the difference until that moment in the shade of the porch.
I was talking with four older men. They were probably retired as who else who be sitting in a doorway of a lumber place in the middle of the day chatting with someone who came walking down the highway?

Then one of the oldest of the four older men told a story (as best as I can remember it):

“There was this young fellow who came through here a couple of years ago. He was a soldier just come back from Iraq or someplace like that. The soldier was in California and wanted to go to the east coast. His first idea was to hire a taxi to drive him across the country, but then he saw a used car for sell for a couple hundred bucks.

He bought the car and started driving, but stopped in the first bar he saw. He got so drunk that they put him in jail to sleep it off. After he slept it off, he started driving again and stopped at the first bar he saw. He kept doing that. Get drunk, go to jail, sleep it off, and go on. Because he was wearing that soldier’s uniform, none of the police took it hard on him. They just let him sleep it off and go on.

He was on the road about a month before he got to Alabama.  That’s pretty slow pace, but considering how many times he stopped and slept in jail, he was making pretty good time. I guess he made it to where he was going.”

“Well,” I said, “I don’t plan to travel that way, so I may make a little better time,”

They offered me a ride, I declined, and I continued taking a walk down Route 11.

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But Where Do You…Some More Logistics

December 27th, 2009 · No Comments

by Dwayne Phillips

A common question concerned where I slept every night.

No, I didn’t sleep in the woods.

No, I didn’t carry a tent.

No, I wasn’t walking on the Appalachian Trail (you might be surprised how many people asked me if I was on Route 11 on the Appalachian Trail).

I slept in a motel every night. There were several reasons. First, people live up and down Route 11. If I were to sleep on the side of the road, I would probably be sleeping in someone front yard. That could be irritating.

Second, have you ever slept on the side of the road for four or five weeks in a row? I haven’t and I suspect it isn’t much fun. Perhaps out in the wilds of Alaska or Wyoming or something like that, but on the side of the road? You are likely to be run over or something. Anyway, it wouldn’t be quiet and restful.

Third (or is it fourth? No, it is third.) I wanted Internet access and preferred to have it every night. That would allow me to blog and such. The vast majority of motels on the way had WiFi access in all rooms. There were only a couple of motels where the WiFi didn’t work well. The rest were quite satisfactory.

Fourth,  I didn’t want to sleep on the side of the road.

Finally, my wife wanted a motel room with a shower and bed every night. She was my support team for the first half of the walk, so that pretty much settled it.

Then there was the task of finding a motel. In the Shenandoah Valley, there were towns every five miles and towns with good motels every ten miles. It was easy to find the next motel. That brought a problem – loading and unloading the motel room every night. We learned to stay in a motel two nights in a row and reduce the hastle of the pack, unpack, and so on chores.

The situation changed the farther south we went. The towns were farther apart, and the motels were still farther apart. In some places in Alabama and Mississippi the motels were 50 and 60 miles apart. This meant driving back and forth. The procedure was something like:

  1. Day One: stop walking ten miles short of  Motel A
  2. Day Two: walk ten miles past Motel A
  3. Day Three: walk to 25 miles past Motel A
  4. Day Four: walk 40 miles past Motel A, which is ten miles shy of Motel B, so switch to Motel B
  5. Repeat the four-day cycle

This was a pain at times. The time-consuming task was finding the next motel or two or three. As an engineer, I tend to try for optimal this and optimal that. This included finding the optimal number of motels with the optimal features per dollar and the optimal miles driven between motels and the optimal free breakfast and the optimal…can you see my frustration in all this?

I used Google Maps and would search on “motel the-name-of-the-town.” This is a good tool for finding motels and other such businesses. A problem was that it was too good. I had to look through a handful of motels in order to find the optimal – well, you know like above.

Every couple of nights I spent about an hour looking at the maps, looking at the motels, looking at the mileage, looking at the terrain, looking at the weather forecast, and trying to optimize the situation.

Plenty of motels was a good thing. The optimizing and fretting about optimizing was a bad thing. It all worked out well enough.

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