The Long March: Looking Behind, Looking Ahead
November 27, 2021
There’s a lot to update everyone on at this strange juncture of The Long March of Liberty; things are afoot that were not a part of the plan when I left home last March.
Near the end of October, I crossed the Ohio River and entered West Virginia. Though I’d been in hills and among trees for the last week or so in Ohio, I hadn’t really felt I was in Appalachia until I’d crossed the river and there was just something homey about the windy West Virginia October.
On the morning of November 4, I woke at Wolf Summit in central West Virginia and lazily prepared breakfast, half in and half out of the frosty tent. I’d pushed hard for days, mostly on trail rather than highway, and I didn’t have far to go today. I would meet Susan about half a day’s walk east at Bridgeport, an easy downhill slide from here. What could possibly go wrong?
Susan, for those who don’t know, is my long-time girlfriend and has provided vital logistics and support for The Long March of Liberty. I think it really is fair to say that I couldn’t have done it without her. She helped with procurement of all the right supplies before I ever left and a lot more supplies while I was on the move. (Though I have vast hiking experience, she’s always been a better gear-head.) She’s worn too many hats to count: web developer, graphic designer, IT specialist, publicity coordinator, editor, and accountant to name a few. She helped me find my way to things I needed throughout the West and even found me prompt medical care when I needed it. I would at least have been in much worse shape by the time I’d reached West Virginia without her remote care.
We have a little place we enjoy dining at whenever we’re in the Mountain State and this stop was first on our agenda—everything was going well so far. But as the night wore on, Susan became progressively more unwell with increasing abdominal pain. She's had various digestive illnesses over the years, so I don't think either of us were immediately alarmed.
Toward evening the next day, however, Susan’s condition took a turn for the worse and we had to seek medical attention. By an amazing coincidence, my good friend Nigel had just finished a business meeting only a few buildings away (what are the chances?) and he didn’t hesitate to act as “ambulance driver” to get Susan the help she needed. She was in intense pain by the time she was admitted to the hospital. Susan was made comfortable and cared for through the night and Nigel made sure I was taken care of; I wasn't in an excellent position to be of much help to anyone myself.
To make a long story short (and in the interest of not over-sharing), a little over 24 hours after being admitted, Susan underwent surgery to remedy her digestive woes and ultimately spent over a week in the hospital. Her condition has absolutely been priority one over the last three weeks.
Very quickly I realized that it made more sense to just go home and commute daily to the hospital rather than stay at a local hotel. It was not at all the way I’d imagined arriving back home. Now the immediate logistical challenges raised by this situation have all been dealt with and I’ve simply been standing by, aiding in recovery since Susan came home about two weeks ago.
Fortunately, Susan seems to be out of the woods now. Unfortunately, I’m also out of the woods. But the year’s not over yet and when I stopped, I sat at only about three weeks from Washington, DC. As it turns out, this scary moment for us has also presented an opportunity for me—and not just a chance to regain body fat.
Had I pressed on immediately after meeting with Susan, I would have come to a four- or five-day stretch where I’ve never had any good route through aside from walking the shoulder of an interstate highway, which, as you may know, is illegal. I would have walked in this fashion to Frostburg, MD, where I’d pick up the C&O Canal Trail, my nearly 200-mile path along the Potomac to DC. The alternative West Virginia roads up and over the mountains are shoulder-less, winding, and high speed. Frankly, I’ve done enough of that over the last three thousand miles and it would be kind of a downer to be run over this close to the end. So, what else can I do?
Not far from where I live is a trailhead for the Great Allegheny Passage Trail, a former rail line running smoothly along the course of the Youghiogheny River south to the high divide at the Maryland border. At Cumberland, MD, it becomes the C&O Canal Trail, continuing on to Washington. Doing a quick mileage check, the walking distance is approximately the same as if I returned to Clarksburg, WV, and walked to Maryland via this route. Walking 310 miles or so along this trail route takes me out of traffic and gives my aching feet a soft surface to travel for the remaining miles. (The maps on the Progress Tracker page are now updated to show my new planned route; can you guess who took care of that?)
So, this is my aim as I begin again on Tuesday, the last day of November. I feel like I’ve just got a short jaunt ahead of me now and that’s a funny way to feel about 300 miles of walking, I guess. I know that December expeditions that look easy on the maps while sitting in a heated apartment seldom really are. There’s too much at stake to quit now and the mission itself is at least as much worth completing as when I started taking steps on the Pacific Coast eight months ago.
A Further Note
A few friends have expressed interest in meeting up with me when I’m not far from Pittsburgh. Well, I’m very close to Pittsburgh at the moment but if you want a trail rendezvous experience, I will be walking south along the Great Allegheny Passage Trail between Tuesday, November 30, and Sunday, December 5. I plan to spend December 6 off the trail at Cumberland, MD, and this would be an ideal juncture to intercept me. About December 14, I will be in Harper’s Ferry, WV.
If you have my phone number or email, feel free to get in touch. If you don’t, use the Contact Form on this site and Susan and I will help you find me.