AUTHOR'S NOTE: On August 31st, 1998, I left Reading, Pennsylvania on a bicycle and an inflatable kayak, bound for Florida. I had given up all my worldly posessions but those I carried with me, and left my old life behind for good. Most likely I was insane, and certainly I was in some deal of torment, but it became an experience that changed me for the better, and everything worked out in the end.
I kept a journal, and took about 260 pictures as I camped in cottonfields and swamps, on state gamelands and barrier islands, all the way down the coast.
The full story will be related elsewhere on this website at some point in the future, complete with pictures, but in the meantime, here is an excerpt from my journal, written somewhere in Virginia.
It should be noted that the events related in this short tale were by no means the weirdest or most interesting ones that befell me; this merely happens to be something I already have transcribed into the computer at the date of this writing.
PARTIAL JOURNAL ENTRY FOR SEPT 14, 1998: DAY 15
Two miles after the sign that said: “Nassawaddox welcomes YOU”, I started searching for a place to camp. I was nervous about tire puncture on an unseen road, and also tired.
I stopped by a realtor’s sign at an opening in the trees on the right, hoping it was a path through undeveloped land. It was in fact what used to be a house, which had, from the look of it, been a ruin even when occupied. Weeds grew head-high all around on the property, and trash was strewn everywhere. There was an outhouse in the back, collapsing inwards upon itself. The doors of the house gaped open, looking in upon scenes of desolation and neglect. Huge webs occupied by evil-looking spiders were stretched between the weeds.
Tired as I was, it was WAY too creepy a place to spend the night. Besides, though it was deserted, it was OWNED land, and I have severe problems with that, being a traveler and not a fucking vagrant. I ate a carrot, had a pull from the waterbag, and moved on.
Three miles further was a small forest, a much more wholesome-looking place, and my natural habitat. I decided that this was it.
There was a fairly deep gully between the road and the trees, which meant that I would have to bring my stuff into the woods in stages.
After checking the bottom of the ditch with a flashlight for broken glass and thorns, I rolled the bike down into it, leaned it against the side of the gully, unbelted the backpack, and carried it just inside the treeline, setting it on the forest floor. Then I returned to the bike, unfastened my gear from it, and carried it and the bike bit by bit into the cover of the trees.
It was all new-growth forest; lots of saplings, set close together. It was difficult to find a clearing large enough to make camp in. Also, upon exploration by flashlight, I discovered that another, deeper gully ran parallel to the first, fifteen feet in from the edge.
I find myself sighing a lot these days.
I selected a spot 40 feet or so past the second gully, after some further exploration. I moved half the gear there, then returned to the remaining gear near the treeline and sat on the toolbox to rest and smoke for a moment.
Then an ambulance went past on the highway, lights flashing. From my vantage point I couldn’t see where it stopped, but it seemed to be at a point about 100 yards down the road from where I was.
“Some poor bastard’s bought it”, I thought, hoping it wasn’t too bad, and wondering at the fact that I hadn’t heard the accident, since it seemed so close. I easily resisted the fleeting impulse to go see what was going on; I don’t intrude upon other peoples’ misery, and turn it into a spectacle, as some folk enjoy doing. “Let them suffer in dignity”, I thought.
The ambulance returned almost immediately, going the other way, lights flashing.
I shuddered, thinking that whoever it was must have been lying right there on the road, to account for such a speedy pickup by the paramedics. I was glad not to have witnessed what was surely a very gory event.
Then two firetrucks passed the same way, lights flashing, stopping at the same spot the ambulance had. They, too, paused only momentarily before coming back the other way, which surprised me.
Something about this began to seem very odd.
It became in rather short order a slow parade of flashing lights going back and forth along a small stretch of highway, with more emergency vehicles added at each pass, and I began to truly wonder what the hell was going on.
When the first firetruck came creeping slowly along, sweeping the woods on my side of the highway with a searchlight, it dawned on me with horror that they were looking for ME!
My bike and backpack were still sitting immediately inside the treeline, and as the white beam of light approached their location, I realized with a sinking feeling what was going to happen. There was no time to move the stuff and retreat. I was done for.
Sure enough, the light swept over my bike and pack, slightly past, then back again, stopping dead on my stuff. I heard a voice with a Southern twang saying,
“Hold on there a minute! There it is!”…
There was really only one thing to do. When you know you’re had, you just stand up, walk out into the light with a smile, and say, “Hi!”
I even turned on my flashlight as I did so, to make sure they knew that I wanted them to know where I was. I approached the fireman, who stood in full gear by the roadside holding a flashlight.
“We had a report of a motorcycle wreck”, said the fireman, eyeing me curiously.
So that was it; my bike, loaded with all my gear, had been spotted in the ditch by the road while I searched the woods, and had been mistaken for a motorcycle!
“Well sir, you’re a better man than I am”, the state trooper was saying, “I’d sleep in the woods if I had to, but I wouldn’t do it on purpose.” He was obviously the senior of the two Virginia State Policemen; a kind-yet-stern-looking grandfatherly type, with the quiet, steely confidence that all the best cops radiate. The other trooper stood behind him in deference, unspeaking. He asked me for identification, and I told him it was in the woods.
“Well, go on in there and get it”, he said, with a smile. “I’ll wait.” I hurried to comply. I am cooperative and not unfriendly to cops; they have a job to do, just like anybody else, and if their job includes me somehow, well, I do what I can to make it easier.
Besides, pissing off the man with the gun is not generally a smart thing to do.
When I came back, he asked me curiously where I’d had to go to get it, and I told him that I was in kind of deep, and explained the scene at the payphone in Exmore earlier that night as the reason why. He and the other trooper nodded at each other in understanding upon hearing this; apparently the place has a reputation.
I gave him my I.D.; the remaining half of my picture I.D. with only half my face showing (the other piece is long lost), my I.D. update with no picture, which the state had mailed to me upon my filing a change-of-address form, and my tattered birth certificate, which he said he didn’t need. He examined the I.D. and asked me my date of birth, by way of confirming that I knew the relevant facts of my life and was therefore who I claimed to be. Then he spoke on his radio for a while.
While he ran an arrest-warrant check on me in Virginia and Pennsylvania, I looked back along the road, and was appalled to see a long line of emergency vehicles stretching off into the discernible distance, complete with crackling radios, flashing lights of many colors, and road flares.
-All this for one tired camper on a bicycle?
My only comfort in my mortification was that everyone was grinning, including the troopers. I was surprised to feel a grin on my own face as well.
I turned to the helmeted, fire-suited fireman who stood next to me, still holding his heavy-duty flashlight-lantern, and expressed how embarrassed I was to be the cause of all this trouble.
“Oh, that’s all right”, he said, chuckling, ”We’re just glad that no one was hurt.”
-Yeah, man, me too. Definitely.
The trooper turned to me and solemnly announced that my driver’s license was expired. I told him that was okay, since I didn’t drive, and pointed out that I had given him a current, legal state I.D. card. He asked me if my license had ever been suspended, and I told him yes, for failure to pay a fine (among other things which I didn’t mention).
He asked me if I had any guns, and I said no. He asked me if I had any knives, and I showed him my little pocket-knife, perfectly legal in any state. I didn’t mention my nine-inch hunting-knife, the back of which I had filed some wicked-looking teeth into, or the blade of my spear, both tucked into the toolbox.
The trooper told me that I should be careful in the woods, and began listing the dangers and inconveniences that I was likely to encounter therein, but then stopped in midsentence and told me he “reckoned I was a grown man who could take care of himself.” He said goodnight, and wished me good luck on my trip. Then everyone began to climb back into their vehicles.
Apparently what I was doing was perfectly legal, for as they walked away, the older trooper responded to the second one’s murmured question:
I stood by the side of the road and waved as they all drove off, and they waved cheerily back.
The younger trooper extinguished the road flares one by one, and then he, too, was off.
I turned back into the woods, to make camp."