January 8th, 2006


the longest journey

I'm back. Still writing my entry about London (and I'm still behind on New Orleans), but I'd like to put that off for a while to say that I did it, I finally did it.

I navigated my way to downtown Elyria from Oberlin without a map. On foot. Without half a clue as to how to get there.

"Elyria? But that's only ten miles away," I can imagine some of you saying.

Only ten miles.

Only ten miles.

For uninterrupted travel on foot, I will never consider "only" to be an appropriate adjective for ten miles again.

Not to mention that, considering the circumlocutious route I took, and the time I went two miles (and back) in the wrong direction down Oberlin-Elyria Road, it was more like seventeen.

Those of you who are automobile owners have no idea how fortunate you are. The way to Elyria seems short because the roads are long and straight, and it is not far if you know the way. Not to mention that you cover an hour's walk in two minutes.

I don't have the energy to go over my trip in detail right now--if it weren't for an enormous pig-out session at Arby's and a good two hours of rest, I'd barely have the energy to think--but rest assured that five continuous hours of walking, followed by half an hour of rest and three more hours of walking, is not an undertaking that should be taken lightly. Especially without preparation, without food, and without a map, in an area that is mostly fields and offers little in the way of food, shelter, or rest. On mostly unpaved road. In below freezing weather. If there's a hard limit on how much the untrained human body can take before it shuts down, I don't think I reached it, but I came closer than I ever had. There were moments of blurry-eyed road madness by the highway (cars streaking by like strokes on a Pollock) when I was honestly unsure I was going to survive--times when I was thinking, with surprising placidity, that my body would not be discovered for hours if my legs gave out and I succumbed to the cold. Indeed, were it not for the grace of God and the generosity of strangers, I would not have stood a chance.

"Five hours," you sneer. "That's nothing."

Think about it. When is the last time you have done anything for five consecutive hours?

Now move your left foot. Now move your right foot. Now imagine doing that through mud for five hours. Without stopping. In below zero weather.

Yes. Yes, you get the idea now.

Now imagine doing that for another three.

"Bah humbug," I can imagine the egotists among you saying. "I've hiked up mountain trails for over eight consecutive hours without rest. You wuss."

So have I, egotists, so have I--and I can assure you, the outer fringes of Elyria (non-Oberlin side) are no hike up Eighteen Peaks. I've had more experience running away from angry dogs today than most people have in their entire lives. And the mud. Oh, God, the mud. Spring thaw. These boots used to be waterproof. Nothing in Ohio was built for feet. Even the parking lots are the size of small deserts.

For a soldier, such a trek is easy. For a guy who grew up taking the bus to school every day, it is well nigh impossible.

Did I mention that I jogged down to the gym and back, and felt so good that I decided to go to Elyria on a whim? Stupid pride. Stupid, stupid pride.

But I did it. I didn't think I could, but I did. I had long stopped caring when I finally crawled (almost literally!) into Midway Mall, and, of course, the mall was closed and the last LCT back home had passed many hours ago. But I've come to learn that any destination you can celebrate arriving safely at is a destination reached too easily.

This is, of course, leaving out the many hours of excitement, despair, and adventure that led me there--and the role of divine providence in carrying me through the tedious final leg of my journey. But I really wasn't kidding when I said I don't have the energy to talk about it. I'm not sure if I'm boasting or asking you guys to laugh at me for being stupid. Maybe a little of both. I'm just glad I made it back alive.

I'd say I never want to walk again, but that's a promise I can't keep.

Thanks go to my roommate Andy and that girl whose name I can't remember for rescuing me after nine hours in the cold. I owe you guys.

(edit) This is the shortest route from Oberlin to the Arby's at my destination. My route took me down East College St. (through the bike path), into East Lorain St., down Oberlin-Elyria Rd. (off map), up Oberlin-Elyria Rd., up Murray Ridge, and east across Route 113 to Elyria. In retrospect, I could have gotten there a lot sooner if I had just gone straight north from Oberlin.

(edit 2) Holy shit--the town directly south of Oberlin is Pittsfield. Looks like I made it halfway to Wellington on a separate expedition. Guess it's settled where I'm heading next. :b
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