Friday, December 28, 2007

Marching Through Georgia

My new year's resolution is going to be to post more frequently, albeit with shorter updates each time. I'm back in Savannah, after a week-long Christmas interlude. The train back to Savannah was only two hours late, compared with the train to New Jersey, which arrived three and a half hours late. Sigh. I'm a huge fan of passenger rail travel, but I can't in good conscience recommend long-distance travel on Amtrak to anyone except the most die-hard rail fan.
So back to that more reliable mode of travel: feet. I've downloaded "Marchin' Through Georgia" onto my Ipod and am ready to go. I've also got a new set of trekking poles- my old ones were showing their age, and when a clerk at the Savannah Hampton Inn admired them nonetheless on the night before I left to go home for the holidays, I was more than ready to give her an early Christmas present. Look for my next update the next time I stay at a Hampton Inn, which will be New Year's Eve in Brunswick, GA. Promises to be a rip roaring time!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

From the USA Hiker, now safe at home in New Jersey. It only took 20 hours on Amtrak from Savannah to get to Newark- the engine broke down in Virginia, and we were stopped without power for three hours before they sent a new engine down from DC to rescue us. At times I was tempted to get out and start hiking...
When last I blogged I was on the cusp of South Carolina, and little did I know, on the cusp of yet more crazy adventures. Two experiences stand out in particular. First, a retired military intelligence officer named Paul Hickey, who helps out with the Fisher House in Augusta, GA went out of his way (literally, and more than once) to show me the best in southern hospitality. Paul had heard of my hike a few months ago, and wanted to meet me when I passed near to his neck of the woods. Little did I know then that Paul would plan a wonderful visit for me to Ft. Gordon in Augusta, GA, its Fisher House, and an adjacent hospital. Paul also had the guts to go table to table at a local restaurant one night, and (with the permission of the restaurant's owner) tell customers about the Fisher House Foundation, my hike on its behalf, and politely ask for donations. In practice, it was like my efforts trying to reach out to the opposite sex during my freshman year of college: the technique was unconventional, took a lot of guts, resulted in far more negative responses than positive ones- but still nonetheless worked. At the end of the night, we had raised $40 more for Fisher House than we would have had we politely kept to ourselves. Paul and his wife Ellen were also gracious enough to host me in their home for two nights, cook great meals, and shuttle me back and forth to where I had left off hiking. They deserve a round of applause and my utmost thanks. Also worthy of such honors were the soldiers I had a chance to meet at Ft. Gordon. It is impossible to meet members of the military today and not come away floored with their commitment and selfless sense of mission. Those whom I was fortunate enough to meet were not only full of enthusiasm for serving our country, but were also kind enough to pass around a hat with over $100 more in contributions for Fisher House. One soldier, meanwhile, who had himself suffered a brain injury in Iraq, gave $20 on the spot as well- completely unprompted. What can one say in response other than a polite thank you to such a magnanimous gesture?
My other South Carolina story of special interest was a stop at the Goodland Barbecue, a classic southern barbecue joint in the small town of Springfield, SC. Before I left after eating a delicious lunch there, the patrons had donated $105 to Fisher House. I also had the pleasure to meet two friendly locals, Boyce Akers and Kenny Kearse, who helped spread the word about what I was doing to the other patrons. Kenny also bailed me out later that afternoon by picking me up after a teeming rain cut short my hike, and then provided me with a place to stay that night. The next morning Kenny brought me back to where I had left off the previous night, and shortly thereafter, I paused that Sunday morning to attend the Christmas musical at the First Baptist Church in Blackville, SC. And wouldn't you know- the couple I sat next to in the pew had just returned from their home in Key West, where they spend most of their time, and encouraged me to contact them when I reached the final stop on my way. Coincidence- or perhaps Divine Providence...

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Nothing Could be Finer than to Hike through Caroliner

Especially when the weather stays wonderfully cooperative. I read recently this has something to do with El Nino or La Nina or Global Warming or Al Gore's Nobel Prize or God having to pay too much attention to Britney Spears at the moment. Whatever- the next week looks like the same as the last two- sunny, dry, and comfortable temps for hiking. I'll take it. And with my much-heralded entrance into South Carolina tomorrow, I will have officially outhiked the worst of the winter weather.
People have often commented on how my hike was timed perfectly with the weather- yes, that was by design. Still, I had no right whatsoever to have encountered only about five rainy days on the whole hike to this point. There was one in Virginia, one in Maryland, one in Pennsylvania, and two in Maine. And that's been it. Sometimes you just luck out.
I also lucked out with the timing of a Teach for America interview which I took care of today in Charlotte, for those of you curious about what the future might hold for yours truly. As it was, the timing could not have been better: I needed an off day anyway, and today was the day I would have been in Charlotte, even had it not been for the interview. I was also fortunate to be able to meet a friend, Rebecca Wintsch for dinner tonight, get a cheap but nice hotel room within walking distance of the interview, and find a Fedex spot where I can ship my suit, good shoes, and most recently completed lecture course on Voltaire and the Triumph of the Enlightenment back home tomorrow. But then again, I'm probably the first person in history not only to have hiked through North Carolina with a pin-striped suit in his backpack. (For those who are scratching their heads, I picked it up in New Jersey during a brief stay at home two days before Thanksgiving via rental car. And yes, I marked a spot on the ground with my foot at the Enterprise outfit in Danville, VA where I stood before and after renting the car to maintain the legitimacy of the hike)
North Carolina went by in just one week, but it was fun, especially the warm welcome I received in Salisbury, including a photo on the front page of the paper, a complimentary dinner, and $60 worth of impromptu cash donations. Let's see what South Carolina holds- already a Couch Surf or two, a meeting with a Fisher House representative and sunny weather with highs in the low 70's are on the docket. Nothing could be finer indeed.