Day 22/ Mar 20th – Christiansburg, VA to Dublin, VA: This is my church

 

Marion Church of Christ

I Christianity, you Christianity, we all Christianity

Spring is in the air!  We spent most of today walking through rolling hills speckled with black cows (and, arrestingly, the occasional llama and alpaca) and with twenty-mile views out in all directions to the pale foothills of the Appalachians.  We were on Old Route 11, a tiny, potholed road, which was superseded by Route 11, which was in turn superseded by Interstate 81; we ended the day convinced that it existed only because of some bureaucratic oversight or pork-barrel political dealings, because it sure as hell wasn’t carrying any cars.  The smell of silage and freshly cut hay was everywhere; a sign outside a farm supply store proclaimed ‘Mulch Season is Here!’; another outside a hunting equipment shop read ‘We Vacuum Seal Your Kill’.  Truly, a day to make the heart sing.

Not that it was all bucolic splendour.  We stopped for lunch outside the gatehouse and wire fence of the Radford Army Ammunition Plant, a vast complex, hidden by strategically-placed forest, which acts as the sole supplier of TNT to the US Army – a contract I would imagine is worth having.  We sat munching our sandwiches, vaguely hoping at least to hear a few low thuds in the distance, but to no avail.  We got our fill of noise later on in the afternoon when we passed the Motor Mile Speedway & Dragway in Pulaski, where the screams and revs of souped-up engines burning rocket fuel were audible for over a mile away.

I like to think that even in these early stages of our walk we’ve been able to share some extraordinary revelations with you via this blog, to wit:

1)      There are a lot of cars and trucks in America

2)      Not many people walk anywhere

3)      Restaurant portions are large

4)      Lots of Americans are overweight

Today we’re pleased to add a fifth: there are a lot of churches in America.  This insight has been drummed into us by the dozen or so of them that we pass on during a typical day’s walking.  Even on long back-road stretches without a restaurant, diner, general store or gas station, it’s never more than a couple of miles before the familiar white spire or colonnade of Yet Another Church hoves into view around a corner.  At least outside towns, they are comfortably the most common non-residential buildings in America.  Coming into Dublin today, we walked by no fewer than six churches – there were probably more that we didn’t see on the route we took.  Dublin, I should point out, is a town of barely 2,000 people.

Periolus times

In the last days, you should turn on your spellchecker

In this part of the world, the churches are usually Baptist – in the area of Bedford, we passed ten in a row before we stopped counting – but sometimes a little cluster of Lutheran or Methodist churches, or even a Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, pops up just to add a little variety.  They must feel like the British at Rorke’s Drift.  In deprived parts of the country (and we’re certainly getting into them now) the churches act as a safety net in the absence of a fully developed welfare state, and for us they also provide the inestimably valuable service of emptying the back-roads entirely of traffic between 10 and 11:30 on Sunday mornings.

Most churches also have a notice-board outside; some merely announce the times of services and the dates of the next book-burning, but others include an apocalyptic Biblical passage or, more often, a home-grown aphorism with which to encourage the faithful.  These have been a source of endless mirth to us at the end of long days on the asphalt.  Pilgrim Baptist Church in Abingdon opted for ‘For All You Do, His Blood Was For You’ (American readers will recognise the Budweiser advert parody), while the small town of Marion provided two pearls: ‘Christianity is a Verb’ at the Marion Church of Christ (this is evidently one of the less well-educated parts of Virginia) and ‘The Loneliest Place on Earth’ at Marion Baptist.  I imagine that some prim punchline like ‘… is Being Without God’s Love’ was intended, but sadly it wasn’t added; perhaps as the sign was being written a gay man came into the church requiring exorcism.

Marion Baptist Church

If you say so

 I’ll be waging my own battle with loneliness over the coming week, as Sally is leaving to attend a wedding in the fabulously convenient location of Cape Town, so I will be ambling on to the Tennessee border on my own.

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