Day 20/ Mar 18th – Salem, VA to Christiansburg, VA: Other walkers

Signs for Route 11 and 460

Important information for walkers

We finished yesterday’s post with an observation of how unusual it was to see people walking around the streets of Salem.  This probably needs some explanation and qualification.

We’ve now walked 250 miles – and we’re trying not to dwell on the fact that that leaves just under 3,000 miles to go – and in that time we’ve seen perhaps ten other people walking along the road.  I invite you to contemplate that statistic for a moment.  We’re not including, of course, the downtown areas and mall precincts, where people have no option but to leave their cars (although you can already do all your banking and get prescriptions filled from your car window, so a drive-through mall must only be a matter of time), but we are still talking about an entire nation where, effectively, people have stopped walking.

Walking is an un-American activity.  Petrol is cheap, distances are large and towns simply aren’t laid out in a way that makes walking practical or feasible.  Consequently, it’s considered an eccentric thing to do; from time to time, we have to cross busy junctions with lots of stationary traffic, when we tend to get the sort of bemused, indulgent looks from drivers that you might expect to give someone crossing the road on a pogo-stick or one of those faintly comical recumbent bicycles.

To be fair to these drivers, the only people we have seen walking by the roadside have been either homeless or, more often, to use the modern ‘politically correct’ phrase, batshit loons.  On the way into Salem we passed a grim-faced man walking along the grass verge, punching his palm and muttering intently to himself – fortunately, on the other side of the road; near Quinton, miles from the nearest town, a wild-eyed young woman, her eyes fixed on the ground, walked by us without a hint that she was aware of our presence.

Sally near Christiansburg

Another mentally unstable long-distance walker

On a long uphill stretch towards Christiansburg today, we saw a figure in the distance carrying a backpack and walking towards us on our side of the road.  This was perhaps the first indication that something was amiss – we were on a busy highway, with a very narrow verge, and Long-Distance Walking Key Stage 1 says that you always walk facing oncoming traffic (this is so that the sight of your screaming face can haunt the dreams of the driver who kills you).  Presently the figure resolved itself into a wiry man of perhaps 40, with the kind of unkempt bushy beard usually associated with sex cult leaders and at least six plastic bags filled with rotting food dangling from his backpack.

“Hello!” I offered brightly.  “Walking long-distance?”

He put on his best Mysterious Smile.  There was a pause long enough for me to realise that this was not a person well-used to interacting with other humans.

“Oh, yes.  I suppose you could say that.”  The smile again.

“Really?  Where are you headed?”  Another long pause.

“I’m walking from Tennessee to Massachusetts.”  Smile.

“Wow!  That’s great.  We’re walking to San Francisco.”  He deflated visibly.  “Why are you headed to Massachusetts?”

“Oh, you know.”  The smile was gone.  “Just following the seasons.”

Just following the seasons?  You fucking twiggy hippie.

“Terrific!  Listen, we have a long way to go to get to Christiansburg, so we should get going.  Good luck with your walk!”  And so we left him.

Not long after this dispiriting encounter, outside a church in Shawsville, we saw a banner advertising a long-distance walk completed last year by a man called Scott Teague.  Scott walked from Mountain City, Tennessee to Washington DC to lobby Congress on the critical issue of our age – the right to display the Ten Commandments in public buildings.  I have to give him his due – he covered 440 miles in 15 days, which is pretty hard-core – but beyond that, he doesn’t do much to alter our prevailing view of the mental state of most walkers in America.  Scott was vouchsafed this mission by God while sitting at his desk one day (“I know it was Him, because I would have never come up with something like this”), for the purpose of addressing the moral decay in “our over-educated secular nation”, and reminds us that “there is still a war out there and a lot of battles and skirmishes that are taking place”. 

We’d like to close today by thanking Scott and his unnamed fellow Tennessean, not for raising awareness of the Ten Commandments, or for following the seasons, but for making us feel like the sanest walkers in America.

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2 Responses to “Day 20/ Mar 18th – Salem, VA to Christiansburg, VA: Other walkers”

  1. Nigel Says:

    Reading this makes me think your trip sounds like some not quite so apocalyptic version of “The Road”. Hope you’re having fun. Enjoying finally catching up with your progress.

  2. Randy Flagg Says:

    Welcome to the USA. Your ambitious goal to traverse the continent by shanksmare is admirable. Moreover, you are writer of skill and biting wit, making your blog worth reading. I hope you are able to find more to appreciate than to make fun of as you continue your long walk. I am sure we Americans seem quaintly amusing to Europeans since we lack sophistication and are absent any real culture. Maybe you will find some redeeming aspect if Great Britain ever has the opportunity to rescue us from the barbarians within. You might show a bit more respect for the nation that is largely responsible for you to be able to write wry comments about us in English rather than German.

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