Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Day 46: Fallon, Montana

The landscape has changed. The prairie, which I've hiked and grown fond of these past many days, has gradually become grayer, rockier, older.

These hills--apparently known for its bounty of fossils and dinosaur bones--are rocky and old, dry and decaying. It's a geological sideshow: giant slabs precipitously balanced by columns of dirt; the ground, as if it's full of air, sinking an inch with each footfall; the rocks are soft, shattering when I try to use them to hammer my tent stakes. The rotting, flaky cliffs are like statues, worn and crumbling, reminders of a grander age. One feels that mighty things once happened here long ago, but now the land's denizens--farmers and hunters and cows--seem like secondary citizens, portly tourists on a historic battlefield where Jurassic glories once shook the earth.

As I walked from Glasgow to Nashua (to pick up my food package), and then south along the pipeline path, the temperature chilled and the wind picked up, seeping through my clothing layers and biting my skin with frosty fangs. I put on my hat and gloves. Then my coat. Then my rain coat and pants. And finally, at night, my thermal underwear. In my tent, in all my clothes, in my five-degree-Fahrenheit-rated sleeping bag, I still couldn't stop from shivering. This was troubling, of course, because I was wearing every article of clothing I had, and if it had been another 10 or 20 degrees colder, I would have suffered all the more. I managed to sleep well enough, but in the morning my stomach growled angrily for food. I devoured four Pop Tarts--determining to up my calories during these cold spells--packed up my stuff and continued on through Eastern Montana's canyon country.

I was finally about to meet up with the pipeline. All through Montana I'd been miles from the path because I took a long detour so I could legally cross the U.S-Canada border. I was walking a dirt road to meet the pipeline path where I encountered a succession of trucks. In the first were two young men who gave me a Powerade and a bottle of water. They were surveying the creeks in the area for the Keystone XL. In the second was an older worker who told me I can't trespass. When I politely told him I'd been doing just that for a month, he scoffed and drove off. The third wore a cowboy hat and had a long white beard, but no mustache, and he told me that he'd heard about me. Heard about me!? Either that CBC interview made its rounds or he was familiar with even the most obscure websites in blogdom. He told me to stick to roads around these parts because I might be confused as a hunter, or that cowboys would think I was out to steal a calf (as if I'd go anywhere near one of those demon-children).

Eventually I broke off the road he recommended because it was taking me out of my way, and headed in my standard southeast direction with the aid of my compass.

I reached a gravel road and, low on water, I stopped at a local ranch. I yelled "Hello!" and a young man came out of a barn, carrying a giant gun in a holster strapped around his waist. The gun was ridiculously long--compensatingly long--so long the barrel poked through a hole and dangled nakedly around his lower thigh.

"Sorry about the gun," he said. "You never know when you're going to need it."

Presuming that the Sioux haven't embarked on any raids lately, it was obvious that he'd just equipped himself with the gun for me. I asked him if I could have some water. He said, "No," but proceeded to grab my bottles and began filling them up. I could tell he was nervous about me, so I tried to put him at ease by telling him about my trip and remarking about how beautiful the land was. I asked him where I might set up my tent, hoping he'd offer his land, but he pointed down the road and told me I could set my tent up wherever I wanted in that direction.

All throughout the night, I listened to snowflakes fall onto my thin tent roof, scraping down the sides. Here it is, I thought. Here's winter. I was far from disillusioned, though. I'm reminded of George Orwell's dilemma in Down and Out in Paris and London when Orwell worried constantly about the day he'd finally go broke. But once he went broke, he no longer had anything to worry about. Essentially, he told himself that he'd figure it out; he'd be okay. And now that I am confronted with what I had feared for so long, I find that my worries have all but vanished, too.

Between looming winter, my foot/shin problems, and a number of other amateurish mistakes, I've come to accept all setbacks with a goodhearted and, perhaps, half-deranged laughter. My latest blunder: According to my mileage chart, I was 96 miles away from my next food package in the town of Baker, Montana. Looking more closely at the map, however, I discovered that I was actually 170 miles from Baker. I will be out of food, with summer gear, in Montana, in November. Really, there's nothing left to do but laugh.

Honestly, though, I'm having such a grand time that I have little problem with the prospect of an extended trip, especially now that my feet and shin ailments have been cured. I find that all of my senses are more sensitive, keener. I am constantly looking to horizons, seeking good paths. When stealth is required, my ears listen carefully for cows or trucks. Coming over a hill, I, for the first time in my life, smelled an animal before I heard or saw it: a coyote, half-amazed, half-terrified, tripping over itself as it sprinted from me, too bewildered to take its eyes off me. I am constantly making daily goals, meal plans, watching the skies, observing the winds, wondering how this hill or river got to be where it is. My mind and body, awoken from their torpor, feel invigorated, healthy, alive.


"This is the sheriff. Good morning."

It was 8 am and I was camped, as the young man suggested, along the road, not far from his home. On the edges of my tent, snow had piled up in small mounds. Everywhere, the grass, coated in frost, glistened.

I unzipped my tent and began putting my shoes on as I wished the sheriff a good morning and said something along the lines of, "Well, this probably looks pretty strange, doesn't it?" The sheriff had drove his vehicle over the grass and parked on one end of my tent. When I stepped out of the tent, I saw behind me that the sheriff had brought with him a posse. Strategically positioned--in a sort of triangle around me--was a middleaged man wearing a flannel hat with ear flaps and his son, the young man I'd spoken with the night before. They stood erect with steely expressions. I looked at the young man and wanted to say, "Dude, what the hell. I thought we were cool?" Instead, I wished him a good morning and thanked him for the water. I was surrounded by armed and paranoid Montana men.

This is the sort of situation, though, that I thrive in. Despite the beard, the bedraggled appearance, and my eccentric plan, my affability is quick to put others at ease. And, truthfully, I'm just happy to talk with other people, as I'm usually starved for conversation out on the lonesome prairie. I explained what I was doing--acknowledged how crazy it sounded--mentioned my family, and said I wanted to go on an adventure before I had to go back to work. Once they realize I have a family, a job (even though that's debatable), and that I can speak well enough, all the things that made me seem so foreign are quickly forgotten.

"I got a call from the neighbor," said the sheriff. "I just wanted to come out here and make sure you weren't crazy."

"Well you gotta be a little bit crazy to do something like this," I said. The sheriff laughed, but the middle-aged man appeared to be unaffected by my charms.

"You wanna to be careful around here," he warned.

"Why, does this area have a reputation for crime?" I asked.

"No," he said, taken aback. "But people around here ain't used to what you're doin. The owner of the land here, if he saw you walkin', he'd of shot ya.

"What you're doin aint normal," he continued. "In my lifetime, I've never seen a hitchhiker down this road. And my dad's never seen one in his.

"What you're doin, it's... it's... strange."

At the moment, I was innocently standing next to my tent, yet he spoke as if I was oiling myself up for some Satanic ritual.

"It's strange," he muttered again.

"Well, I'm sorry I raised the alarm," I said. "I'll pack up and be on my way now."

My tone was compassionate and apologetic, yet I was annoyed. This was the first time in 40 days that someone had asked for my ID (not including border crossings). He suggested I might get shot. But for what? Walking? Taking pictures? It's a shame, I thought, how I'd just walked through incredible scenery--a stunning landscape--yet no one except for me, a few cows, and a handful of xenophobes would ever get to see it. It's a shame that millions of American acres go unexplored because of a few trigger-happy whackos and their ridiculous "No Trespassing" signs. I sympathize with and understand the desire to keep hunters off one's land, but to close off a vast portion of the earth from the innocent walker seems unreasonably restrictive.

But as for thier xenophobia, I felt a sense of empathy. If I was in their situation--having grown up in remote lands without much contact with other cultures--I'd probably feel just as scared and act the same way, too.

They all wished me luck, and I walked down a road covered in an inch of soft snow. The next day, I'd arrive in the town of Circle, Montana, where I bought another six days worth of food because I was soon going to run out due to my severe mileage miscalculation.

As I stuffed myself on Pop Tarts, jumbo candybars, and a package of bite-size twizzlers (which have no nutritional or caloric value, but reminded me, warmly, of my boyhood spent eating them in movie theaters), I thought, I'll figure it out. I'll be okay.


Monday, October 22, 2012

Day 39: Glasgow, Montana

"Don't you think it's a little late in the year to be traveling?" asked the cashier at a Reynolds Supermarket in Glasgow, Montana. Sliding a box of Pop Tarts and a stack of jumbo-sized candy bars over the scanner, the cashier, an old woman, who, I sensed, was the type who normally radiated a grandmotherly warmth, asked her question with a steely coldness. This was not the innocent query of a stranger, but a stern admonishment of a mother, one who keenly and quickly gathered the foolishness of my enterprise, as if I was a member of her brood.

I felt embarrassed and guilty, and tried to reassure her--but was really trying to reassure myself--that I wouldn't have to deal with the Montana cold since I was heading south to warmer climes, far from the icy clutches of winter. She shook her head and warned me to at least stay away from the town of Wolf Point. "If anyone there as much as walks toward you, get away," she said.

Luckily my route doesn't take me through Wolf Point, but it's obvious that this is no longer an autumn expedition. My gait has been so slowed, and my days, so shortened--by injury and poor preparation--that I am now walking in 50 mph winds, sleeping in temperatures in the teens (F), and traveling under a sky that has seen fit to acquaint me with hail, freezing rain, and a few gentle--though unsettling--snowflakes. The cold is no longer at my heels. It's here. I am now on, it seems, a winter excursion.

I was a day's walk from the U.S.-Canada border in Val Marie, Saskatchewan. Before I picked up my package of food and began south, a few reporters from CBC's "The National" stopped by to talk with me. (They were following the XL pipeline and talking with landowners, like I was, except from their vehicle.) The interview was thoroughly enjoyable, largely because my mind, until that point, had not been deeply probed, as many of the strangers I've met have not thought it appropriate to ask anything other the same few polite, and basic, questions.

At one point in the interview, I was stumped by a question. I felt I had a response deep in the recesses of my mind, but as I had yet to turn my feelings into thoughts and my thoughts into words, I stumbled. I'd been explaining why this hike couldn't be an anti-oil protest, since all my gear, clothes, and food either had petroleum in the creation of the product, the shipment of the product, or was in the product itself. The reporter asked, "Do you think that's why they're building this pipeline?" In other words, "Do you think we need oil?" I forgot what I said exactly, but I mumbled and bumbled and wish I had said, "No, I don't think we need this pipeline. We don't need to expand the Tar Sands or transport billions of barrels of oil each day from Canada to the U.S. and then overseas. And I don't need that fancy backpack, or these trekking poles--all made or shipped with petroleum. I don't even need this trip. North Americans have a funny understanding of the word 'need.' We need more oil like a heroin addict needs another hit. We use twice as much energy per capita than Europe. The Tar Sands, themselves, emit more CO2 in the atmosphere than many countries. We need, rather, different consumptive habits, less cancerous sprawl, a whole new relationship with the world, a new religion. We need to quit destroying everything out of a sense of need, when all we really need is a fucking sweater."

Or something like that. You can watch interview here: http://www.cbc.ca/player/News/TV%20Shows/The%20National/ID/2295656851/

After the interview, I continued south. At night, I tried to set up my tent in the open prairie, but it was too windy, and I couldn't get my tent up. I went back to the road I'd been walking along and set it up in a ditch because it was the only place that offered protection from the wind. But in the middle of the night, around 2 a.m., the wind shifted direction, whipping the tent back and forth, until it pulled out one of my stakes, rocketing it off into a field, where I'd never find it. The tent collapsed on me, and the wind caused one of my trekking poles, which served as a ballast for one side of the tent, to beat against my chest. If a passerby had come by at this awful hour, he'd have cause to wonder if there were two inhabitants making violent love inside. But I was alone, frantically trying to stop the pole from beating me, searching for the tent zipper, and undergoing my first foray into claustrophobia. Though windy, the night was strangely mild, so, after escaping the tent I walked along the gravel road, unearthing large rocks to hold the tent down.

In the morning, the wind had picked up. At times, I felt as if I could fall forward, and the wind would push me upright. The tumbleweeds did not tumble across the prairie; they hovered across until crashing into a barb wire fence where they all crowded together, desperately clinging to the wire. The prairie grass in such ferocious winds, I thought at first, looked like the rippling waves of an ocean storm. But, on second thought, it was more like fire, lifting and falling, lifting and falling, dancing and licking and lifting and falling.

I took a wide detour off my path to the Port of Monchy, where I'd cross the border legally and fill up my water bottles. In Montana the wind was just as bad, oftentimes knocking me off balance, almost to the point where I was close to falling. I knew I couldn't set up my tent in this wind, so I searched for a buffer of some sort, and found one in a rustic Waldenesque shack that I would have slept in, if it weren't for the floorboards that were either missing or too brittle to support my weight. Normally, I'd only camp in concealed hard-to-spot places, but in these moments when the elements were particularly challenging, I no longer harbored the slightest worry about getting caught trespassing; the only thing on my mind was my survival.

I continued on over cow pasture, and prairie, and hay field, and country road, slept next to a church in the town of Whitewater, was followed by two snarling curs near a farmer's home, and sought, usually once a day, some home where I might fill up my water bottles. Incredibly, all my foot problems vanished, likely because they've toughened, and because I've taken pains to keep them dry and my socks clean. The shin splints, though, have improved only moderately. Usually I will start the day with a hardly perceptible soreness. But then I will awkwardly step on a rock, or fall into a gopher hole, or get it tangled in the brush, and I will fall to the ground in agony. The steady hum of soreness, over the course of the day, grows louder and louder, and by dusk, I'm walking with a noticeable limp.

It's disheartening when every piece of me--mind and body--wishes to go on and walk till night, but can't, simply because one small part of me isn't working properly. As imperfect as the human body is, I find that I'm mesmerized with it, mesmerized in spite of my frustration. I think of my body, it seems, as if it is a shell or a vehicle that carries me; that's hardly a part of me; that's separate. When I curse my shin or foot, I might as well be cursing a blown tire or a dead battery in a car. Yet I'm mesmerized because of all that the body does without any sort of guidance or thought or consciousness. At night, while I read or sleep, my body is busy doing a million things, digesting my food, sealing up the cold sore on my lip, clearing the chafing on my heels, reducing the inflammation in my shin, coddling the dark bruises on my hips. Yet this body, for all its complexity, sophistication, and evolutionary magnificence--the arrangement of blood, bone, and muscle--is nothing but 175 pounds of machinery that exists just so I may carry, in my head, a few weightless dreams and ideas that magically make this hulking heap of matter, a person.

I'd expected to be in Glasgow, MT in four days, but it took me a disconcerting seven. Tomorrow I hobble on toward Nashua, where I have my next food drop, then to Baker, Montana, where Josh has mailed me another package of food, winter clothes, and a sturdy four-season tent.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Day 31: Val Marie, a day's walk from the U.S. border

I spent three and a half days in Shaunavon, SK, recuperating from a devastating shin splint injury. I hung out in coffee shops, the library, and, when the library closed, the local bar for the Wi-Fi and a Molson. Mostly, I spent my recuperation reading electronic books in my iPad. Over the course of this trip, I've spent 2-3 hours a night reading.

I've read a variety of climate change and energy policy books, including David Owen's The Conundrum (about how making things more energy efficiency actually does little to reduce CO2 emissions, as it only encourages more consumption), Richard Hanson's Storms of my Grandchildren (about the failed politics of curbing global warming), and Andrew Nikiforuk's Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent (about the Wild-West, capitalism-run-amok energy extravaganza taking place up north). I've also read two history books/biographies about famed heretics: Che Guevara: A Revolutionary Life by Jon Lee Anderson (superb!) and Midnight Rising by Tony Horwitz about John Brown's unbelievable attack on Harpers Ferry (also superb). I'm about to dig into Doris Kearn Goodwin's Team of Rivals, Edmond Morris's Colonel Roosevelt, Bill McKibben's Eearth, and Dumas's The Count of Monte Cristo.

I get most of my enjoyment, though, from reading The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which I read for the first time ten years ago. After a day spent walking on feet blistered and rubbed raw, I have little energy to suffer through disillusioning books on energy politics. Rather, I savor walking through fictional lands on a journey far more hazardous than my own. I look forward to reading Tolkien's simple, elegant prose as much as I do devouring a warm meal after hours of toil.

Before I left Shaunavon, I turned off the iPad, slipped in my Dr. Scholl's gelled insoles, popped my first of three ibuprofens, and tightly wrapped an ACE bandage around my lower leg. Amazingly, for the first time in close to a week, I could walk in relative comfort. Relief! Hope! Ecstasy! This is what I felt as I walked in brisk weather and through the dim streets of Shaunavon. Before, if I crossed my legs while sitting, removing my injured leg from the other was a painful undertaking. Yet here I am now, walking southeast underneath a 30 pound pack, and I feel, well, okay.

My goal was Val Marie, SK, just north of the U.S. border, where I'd pick up another five days worth of food Josh had mailed to the local post office. It was a two-day journey that I decided to stretch out to three days.

I took across over pasture, rangeland, prairie. I came across three horses and lavished them with attention, rubbing my hand up and down their head, brushing my knuckles against their soft snout. I didn't realize until then just how much I'd craved touching another sentient creature. When I come across coyotes now, I feel remorse when they sprint from me in terror. "Come back!" I think. "Oh, how nice it would be to have a companion, on two legs or four!"

I set up my tent in glorious terrain: amber hills of rolling prairie, home to lolling cows and cackling coyotes and leaping antelope.

The next day, now short of water yet again, I continued on. I'd gone the whole morning without coming remotely close to a household, but on my map I saw a few buildings and hoped someone lived there. I approached one such house in the afternoon. I saw a woman hauling a giant bucket of water. I worried I might startle her, approaching her and her home where no one else thinks to walk, but she reacted nonchalantly, as if bedraggled strangers were as common as cows moaning from the field. She told me I could camp on her land, and her husband, Ron, offered to bring me home a plate of warm food, as he and his wife were going to a Fall Festival dinner in the village of Climax. At night, they invited me in and I ate a meal of corn, turkey, potatoes, stuffing, and a slice of cherry cream cheese pie.

Ron told me about how he'd been a farmer all his life, as had his son. He was in his late 70's and had had multiple types of cancer. When he complained about pains to his doctor, the doctor said, "You're getting old. I can't give you a pill to make you younger." Ron realized, then, that he was on his own, and that he could no longer count on socialized medicine. "When you get old, they're not as willing to spend lots of money on you," he said, smiling. He took a flight to Tijuana, Mexico, where he received some unorthodox medical treatment. Amazingly, he recovered, and has been healthy ever since. I asked him if he still supported socialized medicine despite not getting the care he needed in his older years. "You bet you," he said. "Absolutely." Despite almost dying, he believed that the system was good for the many, even if it hurt the few.

I continued on, over more prairie. I came across a herd of cows, and feeling an odd sense of composure, I walked right through the middle of their ranks, dividing the anxious herd like Moses parting the Red Sea.

My shins were sore, but I was able to maintain a steady stride, but new fresh gashes spread across my heels and a blister emerged on my recently broken pinkie toe. I staggered into Val Marie in the late afternoon. The roads were gravel and some of the signs, put up the Knights of Columbus promoting pro-life initiatives, were peeling. I stopped in the town's hotel/restaurant to buy some juice and check my email. When I went to leave in the evening to find a campsite, the owner stopped me and offered me a room. "I'm afraid that's not in my budget," I said to her. "It's on me," she said.

I went up to my room, washed my ankles, massaged my shin, and turned on my iPad to read The Lord of the Rings. I'm at the point where Frodo and Sam are on their own, and Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli are walking through Rohan. As of now, the fellowship has survived because of the generous nature of strangers: Tom Bombadil, Strider, Barliman Butterbur, Elrond, Lady Galadriel...

Sometimes the generosity of strangers moves me to the point of tears. How proud I am to be a part of this flawed but noble race. Traveling alone, to me, is not to be on a daring solo adventure. To travel alone is to force yourself to depend on others. It is to fall in love with mankind.




The tough life of a convalescent. Pouring over maps and drinking beer.

I spent three nights at a campground that had closed down for the year. On the weekend, teenagers would wander past my tent and say stupid things. I spent one night in a local motel.
Prairie south of Shaunavon.
Frenchman River. It was shallow, but I don't think I've ever walked in water so cold.
Drying out my clothes after the river crossing.
Ron from the Cassel Ranch, north of Bracken. Here I got food, water, a good campsite and fine conversation.
Val Marie, Saskatchewan.
Fresh wounds! When will they stop? I've asked my friend Josh to mail me a new pair of hiking boots, as I'm ready to blame my troubles on my footwear, and not my sensitive feet.
Val Marie Hotel room.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Day 26: Down and out in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan

I write this from the Stardust Motel in Shaunavon, Saskatchewan--a medium sized prairie town 75 miles from the Montana border.

I took a shower and washed all my clothes, which are now draped over the shower rod and dripping water onto the bathroom tiles. "Gilmore Girls" is on the TV, and I can faintly here the deep voice of a man in a long conversation in the adjacent room. I am in bed, naked except for my spare pair of underwear.

Although I embrace the comforts that the Stardust provides--the warmth for my fingers to finally stitch together my torn clothing, a sink to wash my pot, and a fridge to keep my dinner of mozzarella cheese and pepperoni cool--I lay here in bed in a state of self-pity.

After I picked up my food package in Richmound, SK, I continued south at a furious pace. I was determined to get through Saskatchewan, Montana, and South Dakota as quickly as I could, leaping over latitudinal hurdles with vigor and determination so that, when winter finally hits, I'll be hiking in the relatively warmer climes of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas.

I'd been moving fast, with several 20+ mile days under my belt. The chafing on my toes had mostly healed, and while there was one lingering blister, my feet were no longer the insurmountable problem they once were. I did, though, begin to develop new chafing, this time around my heels, which was uncomfortable, but the variety of anti-fungal creams I generously spread over them seemed to quickly bring a halt to the fungus's expansion.

Mostly I navigated by map and compass. I am following a preexisting underground gas pipeline, next to where the Keystone XL will be. The path is sometimes hard to follow because the pipe is underground and there are markers indicating the pipe's presence when it crosses roads or power-lines. So, to find my way, I use my compass over the barren prairie, heading almost perfectly SE. When I reach the next road, I find that I've navigated well, as I'm not too far off based on where the power-line or roadside indicators are.

For these last few days, though, I've had a nice, clear, straight path. Another pipeline (this is pipeline country, remember) called the Vantage Pipeline, which will transport ethane from North Dakota to Alberta, is currently being constructed. So, for several days, I had a dirt path to walk along, allowing me to stuff my compass in my pocket and focus on putting one foot in front of the other.

My only major anxiety, at this point, had been the cows. My terrain roughly consists of: 1/2 fields for hay, soybean, or wild grass, and 1/2 cow pasture. The cow pastures are often miles wide and long, so it's been pretty easy to stay away from cattle that are clustered across the land in groups typically. But there have been several instances where I had little option but to walk right through crowds of cattle. For the most part, the cows are merely curious, or curious and scared, inspecting me from a safe distance. But there are other times when they are too curious, and will come right up to me. Unsure of their intentions (because I am altogether unfamiliar with cows), I've retrived my bear spray on a number of occassions when the cows have gotten too close for comfort. Two days ago, I had to find a way through a forest filled with black cows. I studied every noise nervously, thinking of them less as the docile bovine creature we imagine, and more like velociraptors, beasts hunting me from my blind spots.

Normally I zip through cow pasture with a brisk gait; speed and stealth and concealment has been the name of the game so far. But then I felt a tightness in my left shin, that, over the next few hours, would become unbearable pain. Each step felt like I was carrying a cannonball in my flesh. It felt like my bone was breaking off and would soon slice through my skin.

I was far from town, so I set up my tent in cow country, which I would normally never do, but I simply didn't have the strength to find a better campsite. That night, I took my first pill in perhaps 6-7 years that night (not including a Duke paid research drug experiment a couple of years back). It was an ibuprofen, taken to reduce inflammation and help me manage the pain.

The next day, my shin was far worse, and I limped for the whole day. Sometimes, when I got going, I could continue my sluggish pace for a while. But once I stopped, it was a struggle just to get back on my feet. My goal, at this point, was to get to Shaunavon, SK, the nearest town, where I might find help and a place to rest.

Yesterday, I staggered into town, dirty, limping, smelly. I was only able to do half the mileage I'd been doing, and with far greater discomfort.

I camped out in the town's RV lot, which is closed down for the year, but no one stopped me from setting up my tent. The next morning--today--I went to the pharmacist's where I bought shoe soles to help absorb the shock of my footfalls, as well as a bottle of ibuprofen, which I'll have to take fairly regularly. Now, I can hardly walk to the bathroom, let alone across a farmer's field with haste and a 30 pound backpack.

The cause of my injury is obvious: I've tried to hike too hard too fast. Before this trip, I thought that I might have a rare gift for hiking long miles, which I've been able to do on many week-long trips on hiking trails and in the Alaskan backcountry. But those were all week-long trips, and my body and mind, on this trip, have been unprepared for this longer, more demanding hike. I'd never had to deal with blisters or chafing before, but only because, after the seventh day, I got to lay around in bed on the eighth and ninth and tenth days.

My shin splints, also, have resulted from walking many miles on pavement, and because I've yet to take a full day off after 15 days of hiking. Hubris, pride, poor preparation, a chronic sense of urgency: these are the vices I must quickly conquer if I wish to get to Texas.

Even though I've been walking along the flat and rolling prairie, it seems I've come upon a dangerous precipice, which I can see just ahead. It's a great cliff that descends into a bottomless abyss. I've found the edge of my physical limits. And I don't like the view one bit.


Mysterious prairie holes, supposedly home to foxes, but I'm skeptical. They're all over the place, and a major hazard for ankles.

My first food package on the hiking portion of my trip. Richmound, SK.
Richmound, SK

This cat followed me for a quarter-mile.

Can you espy the coyote?

More chafing/fungus problems.

Pipeline path for the Vantage pipeline dug out.
Lots of pipes...

I try to hide in trees when I camp at night, but these three were the only trees I could find that evening. Sometimes, looking across the land, I won't see even one tree.

Marshland I had to walk around. The trees on the left were infested with black cows.

Camping in cow country. I've become very observant of cow habits, and while I knew I was in cow country, I could tell from the degradation of the manure, that no cows had been here in a long time. There was however a beaver which flopped its tail twice that night.

There's fucking snow already