Unleashed (Part 7/8)
Right when I entered Alabama I was happy. The shoulders on the roads had instantly widened. But they still weren’t perfect.
Right when I entered Alabama I was happy. The shoulders on the roads had instantly widened. But they still weren’t perfect. The highway was under construction so the shoulder was all gravel. Gravel roads always mess up my cart. The wheels and axels get messed up pretty easily on rough road, but this was a relatively new cart so I was hoping it would last the rest of the way to Key West.
The night I enter Alabama turned out to be one of the scariest nights for me. The one real time I thought I would die. Luckily it turned out to be nothing but let me tell you what happened. The road eventually got better after the construction area ended. Around 6 P.M. a guy pulled over and gave me a beer and a bottle of water. I drank both. Since it was fall, the sun started going down earlier which meant less time to walk. I found myself night walking quite a bit if I couldn’t find a good camping site. Not sure if I mentioned this before but I usually like camping out off the highway rather than in a town or city. My goal was to avoid people at night because people scare me more than animals. I felt like I can handle animals. Anyway, around 8:00 P.M. it was completely dark. There was a campsite that showed up on Google Maps that was about six or seven miles away. I felt like I could make it, and I would try to make it if I couldn’t find a decent place to camp beforehand. While the road was a lot better to walk on, anytime I hit a bridge that would go over a small creek the highway would lose its shoulders. So each time I hit a creek I would wait out the traffic and then run across. At night it was a little easier because there wasn’t as much traffic, although it was obviously more dangerous since it was at night with no lights save for the stars and moon.
Around 9:00 P.M. I reached another bridge, this one slightly longer. I waited for traffic to pass and readied myself to run, but then I saw a motorcycle heading west do a U-turn and head toward me. My initial thought was “Oh, this guy wants to talk” and “He wants to know if I need help.” This happens a lot… I was used to it. But then I realized that it’s 9:00 P.M. and completely dark outside. The motorcycle pulled up in front of me and turned on his flashers. A tall man with a thick beard climbed off and started walking toward me.
Me: Hello there!
He doesn’t say anything.
Me (again): Um, hi!
He still doesn’t say anything. Then all of a sudden he unclips a buckle on the side of his belt (not sure what it is). That’s the moment when I think I’m dead. There was no traffic at that point. I didn’t yell or say anything, but no lie… I thought I was going to be shot or stabbed. Oddly, there was a weird calm to it, like if it happened, it happened. The man ended up walking right up to me and said:
Man: You need help getting across this bridge?
Me: Ummm, sure.
Man: Go in front of me. I’ll keep my flashers on.
I did what he said. Cars went around us. When I reached the other side and returned to the shoulder, the man waved and said “Have a nice night!”
It was such a weird interaction. I wonder if he realized that he scared the crap out of me. The night wasn’t over yet though. After that interaction I decided to just find a camping spot and get off the road. There really weren’t any good areas to camp but I found one large tree and I figured behind that would have to suffice. So I pulled my cart up a small hill, set up camp, and went to bed. Around 2:00 A.M. I heard a very odd noise. It was a LOUD SCREECH! Animal-like. I jumped up and grabbed my knife. I never heard a noise like that. I ended up staying up for an hour before I felt safe enough to go back to sleep. That night sucked. Luckily when morning came I woke, I was alive!
I packed my things and headed off down the road. From Highway 72 I turned off onto a smaller road 157, it cut diagonal toward Moulton and Cullman. From Cullman, I hopped on 278 and headed toward Gadsden. Highway 278 was another trouble road. The highway was two lanes and consisted of a two foot shoulder on either side. It made traversing the winding road troublesome and tiring. I just had to go slow and pull to the side when too much traffic was on the road. I was trying to make it to Gadsden before it got dark but the slow traveling made it impossible. Not only that, but when I was resting off the side of the road a small dog, looking like a Lhasa Apso came out of the woods and startled me. He was really friendly and didn’t have a leash. I played with him a bit but sadly decided to leave him since I had nowhere to take him. Apparently this was not going to work for him since he decided to follow me along the highway. I tried putting him in my cart but he didn’t want that and quickly jumped out. He liked following me. With the highway not having a shoulder I was worried about him (and at times me) getting hit by a car so I took another break and did a search for veterinary hospitals. I was in luck! There was one five to six miles away. I changed my route and ended up taking some side neighborhood roads so that way we wouldn’t have to worry about traffic. Every one or two miles I would take a break and give the dog (who I named Ruffles) some water and beef jerky.
We continued all the way to the vet and when I arrived I told them of my predicament. The people there were friendly and said they would take care of the dog and try to find its owner if it had one. So I said goodbye to my four-legged pal and took off. I stopped by a Dollar General and picked up a few Gatorades and then jumped back on the highway.
While I was trying to get to Gadsden I knew I wouldn’t make it. The dog, the crappy shoulder, and now it looked like it was going to rain… Instead, when I reached a small town named Snead I stopped by the Subway, got a sub, and called the police station. There were no motels or hotels or campgrounds in Snead. The rain clouds moved in quickly and soon it began pouring. A policeman ended up meeting me at Subway and told me I could camp behind the police station. So that’s what I did. It rained all night but luckily my tent did not flood.
The next day I awoke and headed for Gadsden. Here I got a motel room and stayed for two days to do homework. On 10/20 I headed for and reached Peidmont, a small town that bordered the Cheaha State Park. I did the same thing here that I did in Snead, I called the police station. They informed me I could stay at the local recreation/park area. It was a newly built area with a recreation center, creek, bathrooms, baseball fields etc. I didn’t get there until it was already dark. They told me to camp near the camping area but since it was dark I couldn’t find it so I just ended up camping near a small wooded area that separated the recreation center from the baseball fields.
This night turned out to be a bad one. For one thing, a cold front was moving in so it was getting down into the 40s. I had to put on two pairs of socks, two shirts, and my hoody. I also had to completely enclose my sleeping bag like I was a caterpillar in a cocoon. I hate the cold! Heat I can deal with but the cold drives me crazy. The night didn’t get any better with dogs waking me up around 2:00 A.M. barking and running around my tent. One dog sat outside my tent and barked at it for a good thirty minutes.
The morning turned out better with the sun coming out and heating things up a bit. I was excited about today because my high school friend Brian C. was going to meet me in Tallapoosa. He had moved up to Atlanta a few years ago and wanted to meet me on my journey. I told him I would hit Tallapoosa around 6:00 P.M. if all went well. The reason why I added the “if all went well” part was because I can never plan for bad roads or rough weather. Also, I was planning on getting off the highway and taking a few side roads through the Cheaha State Park. I tried looking up the roads on my phone but to no avail. If you ever can’t see the street view of a road on Google Maps it’s safe to say it’s a gravel road… I hated gravel roads!! But if I stuck to the highway it would have taken me way out of the way. So, in the morning I woke up, jumped on the Chief Ladiga Trail, took that to Hebble Highway (not a true highway), and then jumped on Duggar Mountain Rd. This road was completely gravel and the travel was very up-and-down as it moved through the national forest.
Although gravel roads are horrible for my cart I do like getting some time with nature rather than traffic all the time. I was on this small road for hours and only two cars past me. I didn’t see two much wildlife outside the occasional squirrel, but it was still a nice walk. I eventually reached Rabbit Town Rd and took that to highway 78. I was running late when I finally hit GEORGIA!! My friend Brian had traveled an hour to meet me so I didn’t want to keep him waiting. He picked me up outside of Tallapoosa and drove me to a near campground. I set up camp and then we went into Bremen to grab some food. Brian also took me to Walmart to pick up some Gatorade and Cliff Bars. He then drove me back to the campsite and took off. The next morning I awoke, did some homework while it rained, and then backtracked to where he picked me up. I then headed south toward Carrollton.
The reason why my friend drove from Atlanta to meet me was because I didn’t want to walk through Atlanta. I wanted to avoid that big city. Also, I’ve been to Atlanta a couple times before so it wasn’t a priority. Once again the shoulders were horrible. It was making walking slow and frustrating. I decided to headed through La Grange and then over to US19. I walked through Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park which was again, peaceful. I love being in the middle of the woods. The next couple of days were pretty uneventful. The cold front continued to move through. One day it got to 29 degrees which made sleeping nearly impossible.
The shoulders on US19 were much better than anything I had walked on in Georgia so far. For some reason Alabama and Georgia had horrible shoulders… Probably because the roads were so old. On 10/26 a cop had stopped by to ask if I was all right. He told me if I headed to a small town known as Ellaville I could probably camp somewhere there. So that’s what I did. I made it to the small town around 9:00 P.M. and headed to the police department. I talked to a different policeman who told me that I could sleep at the Laundromat (weird, but I was fine with it since the place was indoors and heated). Then a problem arose… Another policeman pulled up to me as I walked to the Laundromat. He told me he couldn’t allow me to sleep at the Laundromat. I told him the other policeman said it was fine, but apparently he was wrong. I told him I needed a place to stay then since I walked here under the assumption I would have a place to camp. Most of the time I rather sleep on my own off the road rather than in a city, but if I can sleep at a police department or a park then I will do that. The policeman seemed disinterested but I told him I was just going to sleep in the woods if I couldn’t sleep anywhere in town. That’s when the original policeman (the guy who told me to come into Ellaville) showed up. To make a long story short he drove me to the next town, Americus where I was able to get a motel.
I decided to stay at this cheap and sketchy motel for two days. This would allow me to take one day to backtrack and recover the ground I lost. I was also able to do a bit of homework and watch a World Series game.
I continued my trek down US19, heading through Leesburg, Albany, and Thomasville. Then on Halloween I made it to Florida! It was an amazing feeling reaching FLORIDA! This was the homestretch! One state to go!!!