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Interesting people are everywhere

Laura and I sat ourselves on barstools at a beachfront establishment in Key West that claimed to be the southernmost hotel in America. It was fall break, we had been on what we thought was a long walk and our daughters were outside on the patio enjoying a meal while we refreshed. I could not help but notice the long-haired man to my right. He looked to be a free spirit – a personality type very prevalent in the town Hemingway haunted and where he remains beloved. The man was wearing fingerpicks and cradled what appeared to be a miniature banjo. Intrigued, I asked about the instrument. I’m not sure what I expected but the reply came in precise, cultured English – as if spoken by a poet or philosopher. The man’s name was James. He was friendly and loquacious. We talked for a while before I asked what brought him to the southernmost tip. ‘I walked here,’ was the reply. ‘From Seattle,’ he added. I was aghast at the thought of walking the longest possible transit route of America. James is 43 and single. Very highly educated, he had been a teacher, plying that trade overseas for a time. He came back home in possession of enough money to buy a home. Instead, struck by wanderlust, he decided to walk across America and he did it. James, a novice hiker, started in running shoes but soon learned, painfully, the need for good hiking boots. He had a tent, sleeping bag, air mattress, pack and credit card. He also had a Samsung tablet, a Verizon connection and, while walking cross-country, he blogged. He penned this on his first day on the road: Ten miles from home I met a nice man, whacking weeds in front of his house. ‘How far you going?’ I did not have the heart to tell him anything but the truth. ‘I’m walking across America,’ I say. At least, that is my intention. Ask me again when I’m in Wyoming or so and I may be a bit more convincing. This close to home I just felt foolish. ’Don’t give up,’ he tells me. Good advice, good advice. I left home at maybe 6:30 or so, earlier than I needed to. I had some idea to beat the rush of all the other people walking across America. As it was, I didn’t see any of them. They must have left yesterday. I’ll catch them, no doubt; I’m making good time.’ Some 255 days later, this was the entry: I am a dozen-odd miles from Key West. I’ve been eight months on the road. Find me now in the grip of an existential crisis. At least my stomach’s upset. Come tomorrow my journey is done. And then where will I be. Right back where I started, but three thousand miles from home. Or four thousand. I’ve not added them up. I’m not sure I ever will. It’s not for me to measure the marigolds. It’s enough that I still have ten toes. And I’ve gained a few things. Philosophy. I stand taller than I did before. I’ve tamed the North American continent. I’m a master of the hobo art. We spent a good hour in an intriguing conversation with James. It was time very well spent. God places interesting people in your path. It is up to you to notice them. (Note: You can read James’ blog at Walter Geiger is editor and publisher of The Herald Gazette.

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