Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Amish Country Bumpkin

What a difference a week makes- from the ghetto of North Philadelphia to bucolic Lancaster County. But there's been one constant- funny experiences and outstanding hospitality. Well, so that's two constants, but I never said math was my strong suit.
When I was thinking of heading off the trail up in Maine, Amish country was one of the places I imagined hiking through that I otherwise would not see. Although I've been here many times before, it's always good clean fun to see the Amish. And for once, eschewing horse and buggy for that even older method of transportation, the human foot, I even had the odd sensation of feeling more righteous than the Amish. They may think they're so holy doing without zippers and cars and Court TV, but ha! I don't even bother with wheels!
Wait, wait, yes I do all the time when doing my very odd version of commuting, which I've been able to do out here in Lancaster County where I've been staying with our good family friends, Bruce and Lynda Limpert. I had already met up with their sons, Mark and Brad, who are good friends of mine, while passing through New York and Philadelphia respectively. And all four Limperts have gone out of their way to provide me with the finest in Pennsylvania hospitality, meeting me at odd hours, shuttling me around to random roadsides, and in the case of Lynda and Bruce, giving me a home base for four days. I should be quick to add that Jackie Banks, a friend of my good friend Nick Spike, was also an all-star for letting me base my Philadelphia operations out of her apartment for four nights last week. Kudos to all!
A few other funny happenstances: after taking a ride on the gloriously wholesome Strasburg Railway (I'm a closet train afficianado) and waving to Amish buggy after buggy, I finally put on my Ipod and up popped a George Carlin routine on fun and creative methods of capital punishment... "Here's an idea, take a high speed catapult and hurl the sucker into a brick wall!" So much for wholesomeness. Another funny moment happened when I was taking pictures of the sign "Welcome to Intercourse" for the funny signs album. I duly waited for all the cars to pass by so I wouldn't be viewed as having the fourth-grade sense of humor I do, but I think a number of Amish might have seen me. I wonder if they get the joke, or even if they're allowed to laugh. It might violate a tenet of Leviticus. Finally, I've invented a new sport, which could be seen as a variant of lacrosse. There is a sort of fruit lying all over the ground here which looks like a tennis ball with a bad case of acne. I stab these things with my poles and try and fling them at trees or street signs. It's a fun way to pass the time and remind myself how crazy I am. Or brilliant. You be the judge.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


About three hours ago I exited Philadelphia, and to the best of my knowledge, I'm still alive. Among with eating the requisite cheesesteak, seeing the Liberty Bell, and posing as Rocky on the steps of the art museum, I saw a bit of the rougher side of Philly. Still, everyone I met was friendly, even if they thought I was nuts. Much more so than the Bronx, Harlem, Paterson, East Hartford, or any other neck of the woods I've traversed, there were parts of Philly I went through that were not exactly places I'd like to raise my children. Which is a darn shame.
(pause while I mount soapbox...)
There is simply an appalling amount of poverty and violence in Philadelphia these days. While the downtown area is vibrant and full of great museums and historical sites, and while my hike today along the Schuylkill River was beautiful, much of Philadelphia is sheer urban blight. When I was living in Europe I was always amazed by the lack of such poverty- even in places like Poland which, if you'd listen to the economists (always a dangerous idea), have a much lower standard of living than we do.
I find it absolutely disgusting that many Americans would rather conveniently forget about Philadelphia (not to mention our nation's capital and a whole slew of other cities) than support the laws and, yes, taxes needed to put an end to this mess. Obviously I'm not so naive to think that throwing $ at the problem is going to make it go away. But more tax $ means better salaries for inner city teachers, better health care for children who lack insurance, and more cops on the streets. Meanwhile, the homicide rate in Philadelphia continues to go up while politicians kowtow to the gun lobby. In response, I guess many of us would simply plead that we are not our brother's keepers to those Americans who live in the ghettos in the city of brotherly love.
Off to see the Amish...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Hiking down memory lane

In Princeton, home of scholarship, a police force with too many cops and too little to do, and a psychotic Chinese restaurant owner who probably wishes I were dead. Thankfully, all the other restaurant owners from my days running the campus food delivery service love me and throw free food at me whenever I walk in the door. Thanks go out to Olives, Sakura Express, and Kalluri Corner for keeping me fed and happy. Of course, at Kalluri Corner I foolishly ordered the garlic naan, which turned out to be a little too pungent, even by my standards. This prompted the entertaining sight of me having to slip the extra pieces of naan into my jacket pocket, since either leaving it on the table or daring to actually eat it would either have been rude to the owners or to everyone within a half-mile of my breath...
I've had perhaps a harder time winning respect for my undertaking here in Princeton though, because if I say I've hiked from New Brunswick, everyone assumes that I just sauntered 16 miles down the road from the city of the same name. But still, like everywhere else I've been, people in Princeton have been interested in my trip and want to stop and chat, which is fine. What's not so fine, is when people see my beloved trekking poles and ask me for the six millionth time where my skis are. Maybe I should start carrying a pair just to make everyone happy.
Other interesting happenings this week included stopping by the Montclair Hawk Watch, having Mapquest fail me any number of times, hiking by Madden's Nursery and Garden Center yesterday, and hiking on the beautiful Delaware and Raritan Canal yesterday. Now off to Trenton...

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Quicksand of Ridgewood

Warning: hiking through your hometown/region may be hazardous to making progress on your hike. Since my last post, I've covered all of, uh, twenty miles. So, not the greatest week in terms of making headway southward. In fact, having hiked out to Ridgewood from New York City, I've actually gone a little bit north. Nevermind, though, the whole spirit of the hike is to have a great time and spread the word about Fisher House, and on those scores, the week has been a banner success.
Or more like a poster success. I've finally started to distribute my fliers that are attached via adhesive to a small poster that states "The USA Hiker Was Here." This way, people can take a flier and read about my hike even long after I've passed through a certain neck of the woods, er, suburbs. We'll see how successful this approach is, but I'm counting on it to help raise a good amount from here on south.
Other things I've been up to over the past few days include hiking across Bergen County, visiting my schools and past teachers, seeing friends from Sweden, Ridgewood High School, and New York, and getting stressed out about the Yankees.
Maybe the coolest happenstance, however, has been getting some welcome media attention from The Record. There's an article in today's (Oct. 5) paper on me- but don't worry about that. Instead, see; http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?qstr=eXJpcnk3ZjcxN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXkzJmZnYmVsN2Y3dnFlZUVFeXk3MjAzNjMx
I know that's a mess of a website, but cut and paste it in, and check it out. There's a whole multimedia slideshow of me hiking the George Washington Bridge on it, complete with audio commentary!
By the time I next post, I'll probably be in the Princeton area. Actually, make that damn well better be in the Princeton area. Onward!